What would happen to you if you were in an accident or sick or if you were just getting older an unable to communicate effectively about the type of health care you wanted? Unfortunately, if you don’t take the time to plan for this type of situation your medical care might be left up to someone else who may not have a good idea of what medical care you would or would not want in a challenging medical situation.
It is very important that you clearly inform those around you how you would like to be treated medically if you are unable to speak for yourself and you need medical care. In Minnesota, the document that does this is called a “Healthcare Directive.”
A healthcare directive is composed of two parts of parts. The first part is called a living will. A living will clearly spells out the type of treatment that you would or would not want if you needed medical attention and you could not speak for yourself.
When preparing a living will, you can include as much or as little information as you would like. I recommend that you talk with your doctor about the different types of medical decisions that may have to be made if you were incapacitated.
For example, would you like them to do chest compressions or shock your heart or give other life-saving medications? These are all things that can be included in a living will.
The other component of advanced healthcare directives is a “Power of Attorney for Healthcare.” This document appoints someone that you trust completely to make any necessary decisions for you concerning your health care if you were unable to do so for yourself.
The person appointed “Power of Attorney for Healthcare” should also make sure that physicians and other persons providing your health care are giving the health care you wish to receive (or not receive) as spelled out in your advanced healthcare directive. Different states have different terms for these directives, so make sure you produce a directive consistent with the requirements in your state.
Here are some recommended action steps:
Create a living will
Talk to your personal physician about the types of decisions that may have to be made if you were in a situation needing health care and were unable to speak for yourself. You should consider having the discussion with your physician and possibly spouse and/or close family members present.
Once you decide what to include in your living will, inform your spouse/family so they completely understand what you want and are aware that you have a living will. Remember, a living will is completely different than a will for property.
Select a “Power of Attorney for Healthcare”
Once you have a list of the healthcare decisions you want made if you were to become incapacitated, decide who you would like to appoint as your primary (and secondary) person to make healthcare decisions for you if you could not do so yourself. Your doctor and/or attorney may have suggestions on who best might serve in this role.
Make an appointment with your personal attorney
Have them create and execute the advanced healthcare directive including the Living Will and Power of Attorney for Healthcare. Make sure you inform all persons close to you that you have an advanced directive and your doctor and physician have a copy.
As a cost-saving measure, some physicians will have all the forms you need. Alternatively, you can obtain the forms online or at office supply stores, complete with directions. Although these may be reasonable options, I suggest, if possible, that you develop an advanced healthcare directive with your doctor and attorney. Many attorneys will have a “special reasonable rate” for an advanced directive, so don’t be afraid to call a few law offices and find out. Once you have an advanced directive, let your family know and, very importantly, make sure you review and update it annually.
When a family faces the toughest choices it will ever make about the care of a loved one, the value of end-of-life planning cannot be overstated. A Healthcare Directive that includes a Living Will and Healthcare Power of Attorney can not only aid in a patient’s care and comfort, it can also provide immeasurable comfort to loved ones who may otherwise be unfamiliar with a patient’s end-of-life care choices.
The Healthcare Directive package will provide specific instructions for how a person wishes to be treated when unresponsive or requiring extreme artificial measures to preserve life without prospect for improvement. It can also provide clarity about who will make care decisions when the patient is unable to communicate and the Healthcare Directive does not otherwise provide guidance.
By avoiding confusion about the patient’s desires or over who makes the decisions when the patient is unable, a Healthcare Directive makes a traumatic time a little easier for loved ones and avoids conflicts that may cause long-term damage to family relationships.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.