Understanding Healthcare Proxies

Advances in medicine continue to assist individuals in living longer and more productive lives. Unfortunately, there may come a time that despite medical advances, you may no longer be able to make your own medical decisions. While this may never be an issue for you, you can provide both yourself and your family with peace of mind by having a healthcare proxy in place before the unthinkable happens.

A healthcare proxy is defined as a legal document that is an advanced medical directive which names a specific individual, or proxy, to make healthcare decisions in the event you are unable to make those decisions for yourself. It carries the same weight with regard to requesting or refusing treatment as if you communicated the decision yourself (www.medterms.com). In some states, the healthcare proxy is referred to as a “durable medical power of attorney” or a “healthcare surrogate” (www.americanbar.org). No matter what it is called, the document performs the same function.

Standard practice is to name a single individual as your proxy with others added as alternates in the event the named proxy is unavailable. This is helpful if your spouse is your proxy and you are both incapacitated. The alternate can step in and make decisions. It is important that you discuss your wishes with your proxy before an adverse event occurs so they understand your wishes. It is also important to choose someone who can be rationale during a stressful situation.

Every state permits individuals to have a healthcare proxy. While some states have standardized forms, others allow you to draft your own. If you use a boilerplate format, be sure the wording conforms to your wishes before you sign it. If in doubt, contact your attorney. They can draft a healthcare proxy to meet your specific needs. In the event you change your mind about anything in the proxy, you can either ask the attorney to make changes or destroy the document for you.

Once you have a healthcare proxy, be sure your physician has a copy. In the event you are hospitalized in an emergency situation, your physician will have access to your wishes. Furthermore, a copy should be kept with your other important papers, such as a living will and essential financial information. In the event you are admitted to the hospital for surgery, take a copy with you. The healthcare proxy becomes part of your medical record. In the event of a crisis, the hospital already has the information available.

No one plans to develop Alzheimer’s or have a massive stroke, but it does happen. Preparing a healthcare proxy now can make life easier for your family during a stressful time and ensure your wishes will be followed.


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