When meeting potential clients to explore whether a medical malpractice case should be investigated, common issues arise which confront families in providing necessary health care to their loved ones.
For example, how do we obtain medical records if my mother remains in a coma?
The doctor has told us my sister who is on life support is brain dead. What should we do? In most cases, the patient did not have a power of attorney for health care or a living will.
No one is eager to ponder what will happen if you become unable to direct your own medical care due to illness, a catastrophic injury or advanced age. It is smart and never too early to prepare documents that clearly spell out your wishes for health care if you are unable to speak for yourself. With a little planning, you can provide your family and doctors with your instructions about the kind of treatment you want or do not want and name someone to oversee your care.
A power of attorney for health care is a document which designates a person who will have the authority to make health care decisions for you. You will always be able to dictate your own medical care if you have the ability to do it. A power of attorney for health care can also allow your designated representative access to your medical records.
In a living will, you can detail the care you want or do not want if you become incapacitated. You can appoint someone you trust to make any necessary health care decisions for you and to see that your doctors give you the type of care you would have chosen to receive.
A power of attorney for health care and a living will must be created and signed by an adult of sound mind who was able to understand what the documents mean and how they work. Once your parent has dementia or is unconscious, it is too late to prepare this type of document.
Doctors and other care providers are concerned about disclosure of health information which is protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to family members. Physicians are legally obligated to keep patient information confidential. Only the patient can waive that confidentiality. Without specific instructions or a power of attorney for health care, doctors may disclose health information to a family member or other relative or person identified by the patient if the protected health information is directly related to that person's involvement in the individual's care and the patient has agreed. For example, a doctor or nurse could provide protected health information about your treatment to an adult child who is taking a parent home from the hospital if the patient verbally agrees. If the patient is unable to consent, then the care provider must exercise their best judgment to determine whether disclosure is in the best interest of the patient, but may then only disclose information directly relevant to that person's involvement in your care.
If you want health information shared with one or more of your children, let your health care provider know. Many doctors have forms in their office which may be completed by you to allow them to share your health information with designated family members.
Help your family members protect you. Inform them you have a power of attorney for health care and a living will. Provide copies of the documents to your designated care provider. Make sure that person is aware of your medications and allergies, so that if something happens, unexpectedly, they are prepared to assist your health care team.
Advance planning can relieve the stress on your family if a medical crisis occurs by allowing them to act with confidence that they are honoring your carefully made decisions and choices.