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Website assists with medical decisions

Mon., Sept. 16, 2013

An easy new website helps people to make difficult medical decisions, guiding them through complex choices with videos and a step-by-step process.

The free website, called Prepare, at was developed by doctors at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, University of California San Francisco Medical Center and the Veterans Health Research Institute.

Planning involves more than just completing an advance directive, which is a way to state your wishes and identify who will speak for you when illness or injury incapacitates you.

People also need to learn other aspects of planning, such as what questions to ask doctors and how to select the best person to speak on their behalf, said Dr. Rebecca Sudore, geriatrician and palliative medicine physician at UCSF.

“Advance directives are important, but they are just one piece of the puzzle,” she said. “We wanted to develop an easy-to-use tool to prepare people to make medical decisions that reflect their values and needs, and prepares them to effectively communicate their wishes.”

The website text is written in plain language, in large print, at a fifth-grade reading level. (It even asks people if they want to learn how to use a computer before proceeding to the next step.)

There also are voice-overs of all text, closed-captioning for the hearing-impaired and large font for the visually impaired.

For instance, topics to discuss with a doctor include: “Benefits – the good things that could happen from treatment” as well as “Risks – the bad things that could happen from treatment.”

And it is interactive, with different content depending on a user’s answers.

Videos featuring people discussing how they spoke about tough issues with loved ones and doctors. Users of the site can follow their examples.

“I believe the tide is turning in America, and that people and their families are more open to talking about what is most important in life and for their medical care,” Sudore said.

“They just need a road map. We hope that Prepare, along with other excellent advance care planning tools, can help be the road map.”

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