Healthcare Proxy: Getting It Right

The healthcare proxy is the legal document authorized by the state allowing the patient to chose who will make medical decisions when incapacitated.  It is a powerful document.  Most people select a spouse or partner for this role with the understanding that your wishes have been discussed and understood.

As an advocate, I have witnessed the positive and the negative of the document. I want to offer some tips and advise on how to avoid problems during medical crisis.

I have found it is best to have two people as the healthcare proxy.  Once the proxy is invoked, it can not be altered.  It will not be possible to change or add a name.  Why is this important?  If something happens to the person listed and are unable to make decisions, then the state or institution legally has the right to determine care.  The care maybe not be what the patient wanted or intended especially for end of life care.

The proxy can list who is the first decision maker and the alternate.  Or it can be listed as a joint decision.  The clearer it is for the medical personnel, the less hassle for you.

Think about who you want making your decisions.  As most couples name their spouse or partner, it is important to consider who do you trust as an alternate to follow your wishes.  I think it is important to consider the person be a generation younger.  I say this because I have witnessed institutions question the mental capacity of elderly spouses ability to make decisions and threaten legal action.  It is a form of bullying.  It is difficult  for institutions to do that when there are two people of varying ages.

Provide a copy of the healthcare proxy to every medical professional’s office and institution.  I carry my proxy with me if I am having a procedure.  In Massachusetts, the law states the institution has to ask if there is a healthcare proxy and provide a form, if necessary.  It is always important that whoever is providing your care is clear as to who is the healthcare proxy.  Make sure family members also know.

If you have a lawyer, make sure there is a copy at his/her office.  The lawyer will then be able to verify its existence and be a support.

If you have a medical alert bracelet, have the name of the proxy on it.

I can not emphasize enough the importance of the document for everyone no matter the age.  Nobody wants to have an institution or state representative making your medical decisions.  To locate a form, google: healthcare proxy and your state.