BEING A HEALTH CARE AGENT continued
As the health care agent you have the power to make medical decisions
if the patient loses the ability to make them on their own. Although this authority may vary some from state to state, you
normally can make all medical decisions, not only end-of-life ones.
However, be sure to read carefully the form that appointed you to see
if there are any limitations or specific requirements established by the state, such as having specific knowledge about the
patients wishes regarding artificial nutrition and hydration (tube feeding).
When asked to serve as a health care agent it is very important that
you have open and frank conversations with the person who is asking you to serve. You need to know as much as possible about
what the persons wishes and values are regarding the use of medical technology, particularly if the person were diagnosed
with a terminal or irreversible illness and unlikely to ever become able to speak for himself again.
One of the agents most important functions is to be an advocate for
the patient. This can involve asking to see medical records, meeting with the physician to get information about the patients
diagnosis (what is wrong with the patient) and prognosis (what is likely to happen to the patient because of the disease or
injury), as well as any other information needed to make decisions about treatment.
You may need to be assertive and persistent in seeking
information and in speaking up on the patients behalf.
Acting as a health care agent
Providers and patients (or their agents) don't talk enough. As an agent,
you will be responsible for working with providers to ensure that your loved one's wishes, including preferences about end-of-life
treatments, are honored. If you become the decision maker for a loved one, take the following steps:
Establish open communication with
Identify the attending physician. Make an appointment to
speak about your loved one's care. Be assertive in expressing your wishes. Clearly state the reasons behind your requests
without being hostile.
To be effective and to make informed decisions, learn as
much as possible about your loved one's condition and prognosis. If you don't ask, the physician might not tell you everything
you need to know to make an informed decision. Ask about the goals of the treatment plan- often, a physician's definition
of recovery can be different from what is acceptable to you or your loved one. Some providers may have a hard time withholding
or withdrawing treatments.
Seek the assistance of a social worker
or patient representative.
Such professionals can help
improve communication between you and the physician if necessary.
Don't be afraid to speak to the facility's
If the physician is unresponsive, go directly to his or
her superiors, including the chief of medicine, risk manager, hospital lawyer or administrator.
Source: Partnership In Caring http://www.partnershipforcaring.org/