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What Is a Health Care Proxy and Why Do I Need One?

A woman arrives via ambulance at a local hospital after suffering a stroke. After the physicians stabilize her condition, the woman is transferred to a nearby room where she lay unconscious and unable to communicate with the medical staff.

As her family learns of the news, her youngest son is the first to arrive. Worried and upset, the man tracks down the doctor on duty to request an update on his mother’s condition. The doctor explains that she cannot discuss his mother’s condition without a Health Care Proxy.

“But I am her son, how can this be? I want to know that is okay and what procedures you are doing to her.”

Unfortunately, this scenario plays out in hospitals and medical facilities across the country. In most states, only your spouse has the privilege of discussing your medical condition and making decisions on your behalf.

This is why it is important to establish a Health Care Proxy (aka HCP). An HCP is a legal document designating another person (a proxy or agent) the ability to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make your wishes known.

For the most part, you can select anyone you desire to become your health care proxy. Since your proxy may have to make life-determining decisions, it is important to choose wisely. Make sure the person you choose understands your wishes and is comfortable speaking to doctors and nurses about your care.

Your health care proxy could include the following responsibilities:

  • Reviewing your medical history.
  • Requesting or declining life support.
  • Authorizing or declining medication.
  • Communicating with family members.
  • Deciding on medical tests, medications, and surgeries.
  • Selecting medical facilities, nursing homes, or hospice care.

Seek guidance from a legal professional to assist in creating your health care proxy. Having an HCP in place will provide you and your family peace of mind should you require medical treatment but cannot communicate your wishes. And, if you regain the ability to express your care wishes, a health care proxy will no longer have any effect.