Goals of care conversations

The senior adult and his young adult child listen as the female doctor explains information

When your health changes, whether it is just a temporary illness, or something more serious, it is important to talk with your health-care team. These conversations focus on your “goals of care” and help make sure that the care you receive is aligned with what matters to you most, especially if you are dealing with a serious or life-limiting condition.

Goals of care conversations are helpful to have starting at time of diagnosis and throughout the illness to reflect your priorities and wishes that can change over time.

At any time, you (and those you want involved in your health care) can request to have these conversations with your health-care providers.  

What matters most to you

Goals of care conversations should include discussion about: 

  • Your health condition(s) and what to expect in the future in a way you understand. 
  • Your values and wishes and your most important priorities if your health were to get worse. 
  • Your fears and worries about the future with your health. 
  • What quality of life means to you. 
  • Who you want to have involved in your health-care decisions. 
  • Outline and clarify your values, goals, and preferences for medical treatments and interventions. Consider the following: 
  • What’s important to you?  
  • What is the minimum you want to be able to do for yourself to be satisfied with your quality of life?  
  • Are there ways of living that you would consider worse than dying? 

For example, for some people, being able to eat and drink by mouth is essential to their quality of life, and they may not wish to be kept alive on a long-term tube feed. 

Getting started

You are encouraged to start conversations about what is important to you with your health-care providers. Your health-care providers may also ask to have a conversation about your goals of care. 

The What Matters Most to Me worksheet can be a helpful way to start thinking about what is most important to you, and what questions you might have about your health.   

Goals of care conversations are usually not a one-time event. Talk again with your health-care provider(s) if your wishes change or if your health changes. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between an advance care plan and a goals of care conversation?

    An advance care plan helps you express what you would want in a hypothetical medical emergency that may or may not happen.  Goals of care conversations are about making decisions for a health situation that is currently happening and planning for the care you will want in the context of a health condition that is likely to change over time. 

    In both cases, you are thinking about your values and wishes; advance care plan might be more general and a goals of care conversation is usually more specific. 

  • I already have an advance care plan. Do I still need a goals of care conversation?

    Having an advance care plan is a great start because it means you have likely done some thinking about what is important to you for your care in the future.  A goals of care conversation can build on what you have in your advance care plan, and it will involve planning with your health-care provider(s) for specific changes that may happen with your specific health situation. 


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