Someone you care about has asked you to be their health care proxy — now what?
First, it is a huge honor. If you accept the invitation to be your friend or loved one’s proxy (also called a health care agent or Power of Attorney), you’re agreeing to make decisions about their medical care if they become unable to make them for themselves. You may want to accept this role, but before you agree, make sure you understand what it means to be a good health care proxy.
Questions to consider
- What are my legal responsibilities as a proxy? – If called upon to act as a proxy, you will talk with your person’s doctors, consult their medical records, and make choices about tests, procedures, and other treatments. You are entitled to full access to their medical information under federal privacy laws (commonly known as HIPAA). You have the legal power and responsibility to make medical decisions for your person if they are no longer able to make those decisions.
- How do I make sure I understand their end-of-life wishes? – One of your most important duties as a proxy is to understand your person’s wishes and choices regarding end-of-life care. Having these conversations before a medical crisis, when there is time to talk things through, is an important step for a health proxy to take. How do you begin those discussions? Consider going through the Conversation Project Conversation Starter Kit and talking about their preferences on the “Where I Stand” scale.
How to be a good health care proxy
While we don’t want to scare anyone off, it’s important to be aware of what it means to be a good health care proxy so know if you’re up to the task. Here are some things to remember:
- Being a good proxy means speaking for the person when they’re unable to speak for themselves. It’s not about what you want; it is about what the person you’re speaking for wants. You need to do the best you can to make decisions with their beliefs and feelings in mind.
- Being a good proxy is about doing your best. You don’t have to be perfect. You may not always be able to follow the person’s exact wishes. For example, it may not be financially or physically safe to keep the person at home. Just do the best you can.
- Being a good proxy means getting comfortable with speaking up. In what could be a chaotic scene, make sure you feel you could communicate clearly with the person’s medical team when needed. You could say: “I’d like to speak with you about my friend’s wishes,” “I don’t understand what you just said,” or “I have some questions. When would be a good time for us to talk?” Try writing down your questions ahead of time to make sure you don’t forget anything important.
If you believe that you could be someone’s health care proxy, make sure you have the discussion about their wishes and what matters most to them. For more tips and information, please visit The Conversation Project’s Guide: “How to Choose a Health Care Proxy & How to Be a Health Care Proxy.”