Three things should guide your thinking…
Let’s start with “A.” We already know what it stands for – advance, as in prior to something, but in this case it can also stand for appoint a (health care) agent. Identifying someone who can speak for you if you cannot speak for yourself is critical to advance care planning and something you will need to address early on. A health care agent is often called a “health care proxy,” a “durable power of attorney for health care,” “health care surrogate,” and others. No matter the title, the responsibility is the same: being able and willing to speak for you regarding the care you would desire (or not desire). This person’s authority begins only when medical providers have determined you can no longer communicate for yourself.
Who to pick?
There are three things to consider when choosing your health care agent:
1) it should be someone you trust to speak for you and who would follow your stated wishes;
2) you should have spoken with them concerning your wishes and desires; and
3) he or she should be willing and able to assume this responsibility. As a nurse, I’ve actually been called on to contact people who were totally unaware they had been named as the person’s health care agent!
I’ve heard people say, “I’m not sure my spouse could do this.” That’s fine; there is no requirement that you designate your spouse or even a family member. And yes, you can have more than one agent, but not at the same time. In Five Wishes, for example, you can identify a first, second and third choice. Having more than one provides more security that you will have your decisions heard should the primary designee not be available in your time of need.
Next time: We go to “C” of the advance care plan, which is Communicate, Chat, or Conversation.
M. Jane Markley RN, MEd, FACHE is a consultant with over 30 years of experience in healthcare and is the president of M Jane Markley Consulting, LLC.