being a health care proxy

Featuring Robert K. Nielsen, MD

If you are caring for an elderly loved one, you may be asked to serve as his or her Health Care Proxy. To prepare for this role, there are a number of things you need to know about how to make the right health care decisions for your loved one, in the event that he or she is unable to.

A Health Care Proxy can also be called a Health Care Power of Attorney, Agent, Representative, or Surrogate. Regardless of the title, a person who takes on this role is responsible for carrying out the wishes or Advance Directive—also called a living will—of his or her loved one.

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Health Care Decisions

To make decisions about your loved one’s medical care, you will need to learn about their medical condition, treatment options, and medical history, as well as communicate with their medical team and other family members.

Your Health Care Proxy duties will begin when your loved one loses the ability to make health care decisions on their own, as determined by their doctor. You may be required to make decisions on your loved one’s behalf about a number of important health care issues, including:

  • Whether to pursue or decline medical tests, treatment, surgery, medications, or life-support
  • Where medical treatment is received, such as a hospital, nursing home, or hospice facility
  • Whether to take legal action or otherwise advocate for his or her rights and wishes
  • Whether to apply for assistance programs or insurance benefits offered by Medicaid or Medicare

How to Prepare

It is never too early to prepare for your role as his Health Care Proxy. A large part of this preparation involves learning about his beliefs and values, as well as his health and end-of-life care preferences.

Although it may feel awkward or uncomfortable, it is a good idea to have a conversation with your loved one about his overall health, medical history, and how they would like to be treated at the end of life. If your loved one is willing, it is also a good idea to discuss how he would like to be treated in specific scenarios, such as in the event of a terminal illness, coma, or infection.

If your loved one has prepared an Advance Directive, you should be sure to review and discuss that document.

Playing Your Role

After the proxy es into effect, your first job will be to learn as much as possible about your loved one’s medical situation and treatment options. If possible, you should to the place where your loved one is being treated as soon as possible. If you are unable to go, you should arrange a video conference or phone call with his doctor or care coordinator.

After you have a good understanding of your loved one’s condition and the pros and cons of each treatment option, you can begin to consider the best choices in accordance with your loved one’s wishes.

As a Health Care Proxy, you have the authority to make decisions on your own. However, it is usually a good idea to communicate with other relatives regarding any health care decisions. Consulting them about treatment helps to maintain family relationships during a stressful time.

Ready When They Need You Most

A little conversation, openness, and preparation can a long way toward helping you to be an effective Health Care Proxy for your loved one. By discussing his wishes in advance and having a good understanding of your role, you will be ready to speak on your loved one’s behalf when they need you most.

About UPMC Pinnacle

UPMC Pinnacle is a nationally recognized leader in providing high-quality, patient-centered health care services in south central PA. and surrounding rural communities. UPMC Pinnacle includes seven acute care hospitals and over 160 outpatient clinics and ancillary facilities serving Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Juniata, Franklin, Adams, and parts of Snyder counties. These locations care for more than 1.2 million area residents yearly, providing life-saving emergency care, essential primary care, and leading-edge diagnostic services. Its cardiovascular program is nationally recognized for its innovation and quality. It also leads the region with its cancer, neurology, transplant, obstetrics-gynecology, maternity care, and orthopaedic programs.

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