An Advance Health Directive is a formal (legal) way of giving instructions for your future health care, and comes into effect only if you are unable to make your own decisions.

What is the difference between Advance Care Planning and Advance Health Directives?

Advance Care Planning usually refers to the process by which patients, together with their families and health care practitioners, consider their values and goals and articulate their preferences for future care.

As a result of advance care planning an Advance Care Plan (ACP) may be developed. This usually includes some form of formal written documentation, but could also include a letter or be verbal. Part of an ACP may also be documentation around the appointment of a surrogate decision maker, in case of the loss of your own decision making capabilities, due to a sever accident or long term illness.

An ACP is a non-statutory document which could be considered legal under common law, as a common law directive.

The law requires health professionals to follow a common law directive. It informs health professionals about what treatments you would or would not want.

An ACP may also include personal wishes that are not necessarily health-related, which guide your health professionals and family as to how you would like to be treated and any special requests or messages.

An Advance Health Directive is a type of formal written (statutory) document which might be included as part of an Advance Care Plan. Some States and Territories have developed legislation which ensures that documentation of a patient’s directives about their future treatment are legally binding. If these documents have been completed, the patient’s agents, next-of-kin and doctors are obliged to follow them. The power of these advance health directives and conditions attached to them are specific to each State and Territory.

Therefore, of the two documents, the Advance Health Directive carries more legal weight, as it is considered to be a statutory document in the States & Territories under which the respective State Acts & Regulations have been enacted.