I’ve been appointed health agent under a health care advance directive – What’s next?

If you’ve been appointed as someone’s health agent, that means you’re the person health care providers speak with if the patient cannot speak for himself or herself. Here are some suggestions:

  • Remember – you do not have authority to overrule the patient’s decisions if the patient can speak for himself or herself. Your role is to support the patient’s decisions and, if the patient is unable to speak for himself or herself, to be the patient’s voice.
  • Talk with the patient about his or her values. Since you’re supposed to serve as the patient’s voice, it is critical that you undertand what the patient would want if certain events occur. If appropriate, get the patient to document his or her values in writing. There are many forms you can use to document a patient’s health values. If you can’t find one, here’s one available on the internet.
  • Learn as much as you can about the patient’s health conditions. Learn about the patient’s medications. If you don’t have enough information about the patient’s condition, you will be ineffective when called upon to make health care decisions.
  • “Try” to keep other family members informed. Your role is to follow the patient’s wishes, but you needlessly invite controversy by cutting others out of important decisions like refusing care. If you can’t work with someone who is argumentative, that’s fine. But don’t go out of your way to create strife if you can avoid it.
    • If a dispute arises, the Court will be looking for evidence of the patient’s values. If you followed the patient’s documented health values, then the Court should support your decisions.
  • Remember that you are entitled to enouh information to make informed decisions. HIPAA expressly provides that a health care decision-maker is entitled to the patient’s health care information.
  • If you have questions, or if anyone attepts to prevent you from following the patient’s wishes, speak with a lawyer.

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