Healthy World, Healthy Nation, Healthy You

Planning Life with the End in Mind-ADVANCED CARE PLANNNG

Karl  M Ahlswede, MD

Director of Pain and Palliative at Bryn MAwr Hospital, Bryn Mawr, PA and Medical Director for the Pain and Palliative Care Program for Main Line Health System, Bryn Mawr, PA.


karlKarl Ahlswede MD FACS is the medical director for palliative care at Bryn Mawr Hospital and the owner of Dr Karl Ahlswede, Advance Care Planning, the first physician practice specializing in Advanced Care Planning. Dr Ahlswede serves as the Bioethics Committee Chairman for Main Line Health.Dr Ahlswede’s practice of Palliative Medicine brings relief to patients and their families through goal oriented conversation, education and expert pain and symptom management. Through his private practice, Dr. Ahlswede ensures patient’s values regarding end of life are honored by providing professional guidance and expertise relevant to the patient’s individual situation.

Prior to practicing palliative medicine full time, Dr Ahlswede was a surgeon with Main Line Cardiothoracic Surgeons in Wynnewood, PA. In addition to surgical duties he was responsible for improvement in post operative patient care. He was instrumental in advancing quality through implementation of multidisciplinary rounds, improvement  in nutrition practices, enhanced clinician communication, and initiating formal family meetings.

Dr Ahlswede was the first surgeon to be given specialty certification for Hospice and Palliative Medicine by the American Board of Surgery in 2009. He has held board certification from the American Board of Surgery since 1994 and has been a Fellow in the American College of Surgeons since 2004 and is active in the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative medicine. Prior to and during medical school Dr Ahlswede was a practicing pharmacist. He is a graduate of the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy.


People typically do not think of the end of their lives while they are busy living life. For most of us-living life is challenging enough! Not until faced with a threatening illness personally or within one’s family or social circles, do we stop long enough (and sometimes even in the worst of times, we don’t stop even then) to thoughtfully consider how we would want to maintain control  and exit our lives with grace and dignity? The real challenge is how do we orchestrate what we want and know with certainty that our wishes will be honored when the time comes?

Today we have a guest who has tackled these questions and has developed a meaningful process to assist individuals and families in making  such choices in how to preserve quality of life, long before an illness or accident has occurred. Dr Karl Ahlswede is both a maverick and a trailblazer in the field of palliative care and end of life.

Ensuring Death with Dignity


  • Most people’s wishes for their own death are not honored in the US
  • Survivors are left with large burdens when loved ones die

Reason for the Problem

  • Discussing end of life issues if very uncomfortable
  • Advance Directives are valid in very few instances
  • Loved one are not supported during critical decision making

Solution to the Problem

  • Advance Care Planning involves the patient, loved ones and clinicians from planning stage to implementation
  • Advance Care Planning has been clinically shown to offer patients and loved ones significant advantages

Problems with the Solution

  • Advance Care Panning is not readily available
  • Most clinicians are no t trained or interested in Advance Care Planning
  • Advance Care Planning is emotionally charged.

3 Key Points:

  1. Advance Care Planning (ACP) is defined
  2. Differentiation between ACP and Advanced Directives are made
  3. Direction on how to access such services is discussed


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