The legal, financial, and healthcare systems have built-in rights for spouses and next of kin. However, many people late in life no longer have a spouse who can take care of them during illness or injury. The next of kin may be too far away or otherwise not the first choice. That’s why seniors often have understandings or preferences for close personal friends or loved ones to manage affairs if a health situation should render a senior unable to make important decisions. Will those wishes be honored? Unfortunately, the answer is often “no.” Here is how to make sure the person you want gets to be involved in your healthcare should the need arise.
We often imagine ourselves waiting until the time is right to talk to loved ones about who would be in charge and then letting the hospital help with the paperwork. The fact of the matter is that disabling healthcare conditions often manifest too fast for that. Think of strokes, head injuries, heart attacks, and all the different ways a health condition can change dramatically and suddenly. Even if you have a spouse, what if something should happen to both of you at the same time? For people who do not have an obvious succession of family members for care planning, now is the time to plan and to put your preferences in legal documents. See a lawyer. Express your wishes. Ask for the documents that enable your chosen caregivers to interact with your doctors and nurses.
How Privacy Interferes with Your Health Wishes
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) places strict limitations on who healthcare professionals can share patient information with. HIPAA excludes friends, loved ones, and even most family from receiving patient information without a release from the patient. Have the lawyer prepare a standard medical information release for everyone you would want your doctor to share freely with. Keep a copy for yourself, give a copy to your preferred helpers, and send a copy to your doctor(s). Each medical practice may have its own forms that they know comply with HIPAA. Complete these forms, too, but it doesn’t hurt to have your own in place as well.
What If You Were to Become Unable to Make Your Own Healthcare Decisions?
A doctor being allowed to share information is not the same as a doctor being allowed to take instructions from your chosen care planner. For that, have the attorney prepare a durable power of attorney document – sometimes referred to as a health care proxy. This document specifies who should take charge of healthcare if a person becomes unable to make his or her own decisions. The person taking charge is sometimes referred to as a healthcare proxy. The durable power of attorney can also apply to finances.
What If a Health Problem is Causing You to Make Bad Decisions?
Sometimes the need for a healthcare proxy is not so obvious as the patient being unconscious. People can become mildly impaired and still be trying to make healthcare decisions. A diminishing capacity letter gives your doctor permission to call the healthcare proxy if the doctor suspects a patient is not making decisions like he or she normally would. If you trust your healthcare proxy to decide if your capacity is diminished, have your attorney prepare this document as well.
What to Do with All These Documents
To ensure your wishes are honored and that your healthcare is properly managed, you have to make sure these documents are in the right hands. People named in the documents should have copies. Provide copies to doctors to be placed in their medical records. Keep your own copies with health insurance papers or other more accessible and often referred to documents. Storing your advanced directives in a locked safe can make them hard to find and use when they are needed.