“Should I carry my health care power of attorney with me?” is a question we are often asked, especially when clients are going on vacation or to Florida for the winter months. At the very least, your health care documents should be accessible.

Why is it important to have your health care documents accessible?

If the first responder or hospital staff member treating you in an emergency situation is able to access your health care information, it is a first step toward avoiding unwanted interventions. Doctors will be able to make better decisions about your care, e.g. if you have a history of severe reactions to a certain medication. In the event of your death, your health care documents may contain your directions with respect to organ or tissue donation.

Options for accessibility

You can carry a health care card in your wallet next to your identification or health insurance card which lists your agent’s name and phone number as well as the location of your health care documents. Other options for accessibility include: a medical identification bracelet, a clearly marker flash drive on your key ring or fob, a copy of the documents in your vehicle’s glove compartment with a yellow dot decal in the rear window of your vehicle, or a note on your refrigerator. Several healthcare systems have the ability for you to store your health care documents with them. However, bear in mind that if you do so, you will need to provide any updated documents to the healthcare system as you revise your documents.

What are health care documents?

Health care legal documents take different forms: an advance directive, a living will, and a health care power of attorney are the most common. These documents are used when you lack the capacity to make or communicate health care decisions for yourself. You may also have a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) release which lists who has access to your private health care information, but does not give the listed persons medical decision making power. You may have met with your doctor and completed a Pennsylvania Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form on which is recorded your wishes regarding various treatments. Your POLST is transferred with you from one health care location to another. It is essential that you document your wishes.

A health care power of attorney can cover HIPAA information, decision making during lifetime that is not end-of-life, and end-of-life choices. An advance directive and a living will address your wishes for treatment at the end of your life after a physician has determined you have an end-stage medical condition or are permanently unconscious. It is important that you consider and address end-of-life health care treatment. If you do not want life sustaining treatment once your physician determines you are at the end of your life, then that guidance for chosen health care agent should be set forth in your document. For example, should you wish to give your health care agent the power to refuse treatments at the end of your life such as artificial ventilation, nutritional support and hydration, cardiac resuscitation, antibiotics, dialysis, surgery, blood transfusion, chemotherapy, and radiation, to name several, that power to refuse should be listed in your document. Remember that if you have the capacity to make decisions at the end of your life, you may choose to follow or disregard the instructions in your health care document.

It is important to choose the health care agent(s) that understands your health care preferences and will be able to execute those preferences should you be unable.

Tammy A. Weber is a Certified Elder Law Attorney and the Managing Attorney of the law firm of Marshall, Parker & Weber, LLC with offices in Williamsport, Jersey Shore, and Plains. For more information visit www.paelderlaw.com or call 1-800-401-4552.

Marshall, Parker & Weber is open and available to help you assess what documents you may need or whether your current plan is in good shape. Call us at 800-401-4552 to schedule an appointment. You can also check out our portal for complimentary blog articles, videos and webinars.
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