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Medical Decisions: What’s a Healthcare Proxy?

Medical Decisions: What’s a Healthcare Proxy?

Thanks to significant advances in medicine and technology, many seniors are living longer, more productive lives. As you grow older, you may be asked to decide on certain treatment options you would like to have administered in case of a medical emergency, during times of illness, injury, or accident — or as you approach the end of life. This is where a healthcare proxy comes in. What’s a healthcare proxy, and why is it important for you to have one? Here are some of the most important things to know about this powerful tool.

What’s a Healthcare Proxy?
healthcare proxy, also known as a durable power of attorney for healthcare, or a medical power of attorney, allows you to appoint another person — called a healthcare agent or proxy — to communicate your wishes and make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are not able to do so. Once the document is written, you may continue to make your own healthcare decisions. In some jurisdictions, establishing a healthcare proxy is mandatory prior to hospital admission.

Who Should Have a Healthcare Proxy?
Anyone over the age of 18 can appoint a healthcare agent. In the event that you have not appointed one, most states have laws that allow close family members, doctors, or hospital administrators to make medical decisions on your behalf. While this does serve as an emergency last resort, these people may not know your wishes well enough to make the best medical decisions for you.

What’s a Healthcare Proxy’s Effective Date?
Healthcare proxies go into effect any time you are not capable of communicating your healthcare wishes as a result of illness or injury, whether temporary or permanent. If you regain the capability to make your own healthcare decisions, you will regain the ability to speak for yourself.

The American Bar Association suggests occasionally reviewing your healthcare proxy document to ensure that your agent is still someone you want making healthcare decisions for you. You can always appoint a new agent or name a second person to act as your backup agent.

As long as you give your agent(s) permission, they have the same ability to make medical treatment decisions and access medical records as you would. You can also put limits on the power your healthcare agent has by distinctively stating these limitations in the document.

Though many older adults today are enjoying longer, healthier lives, it’s still important to appoint healthcare agents who can help ensure that you always receive your ideal medical treatment. Healthcare proxies can afford you peace of mind, enabling you to live without fear of receiving inadequate care.

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