When you assume the role of the health care proxy of a loved one, you make crucial medical decisions on their behalf. If your loved one becomes incapacitated and cannot communicate with health care providers, you are responsible for ensuring health care providers respect their preferences for care.
If you are a health care proxy, your role is to protect your loved one’s interests when they are vulnerable. Health care proxies have an essential, yet challenging role, as medical decisions can significantly impact patient outcomes.
What Is a Health Care Proxy?
A health care proxy is a person who makes health care decisions for someone else – that is, by proxy. These decision-makers include health care agents, who the patient appoints via power of attorney, guardians authorized by the court, or legal surrogates. Legal surrogates are close family members called upon to make decisions when the patient has no agent or guardian.
Understanding the Role
The role of health care proxy includes:
- Reviewing and staying informed about your loved one’s medical information.
- Consulting with the health care team and asking questions about your loved one’s status and treatment.
- Consenting to and declining medical tests and treatments on their behalf.
- Deciding where your loved one receives care, including hospitals, assisted living, and nursing care.
- Facilitating communication between your loved one and doctors and nurses to the extent that your loved one can communicate.
- Making decisions involving your loved one’s finances and insurance.
Depending on the circumstances, you might know in advance that you will serve as a health care proxy, or you might take on the role unexpectedly. Should you have time to prepare for your role, keep several things in mind:
- Talk with the person you represent. Understanding their values, beliefs, and preferences regarding medical treatment will help you make decisions consistent with their wishes.
- Become familiar with your loved one’s medical history and health care team.
- Review relevant legal documents. Your loved one may have a power of attorney designating you as the health care agent and a living will describing their end-of-life wishes.
Communicating With the Person You’re Representing
When you assume the role of surrogate decision-maker, it is crucial to understand the patient’s wishes and values. Since you do not know how their condition will change, it is a good idea to have conversations about their medical preferences early and often.