What is a Healthcare Proxy – Overview
A healthcare proxy is a form of legal document that allows a person to act as a representative for another and make healthcare-related decisions on the latter’s behalf if the person is no longer deemed sensible enough to make such important decisions.
A healthcare proxy is a term used to describe the legal designating document and the individual selected to be the representative. This is considered a type of advance health directive and can also be called a “healthcare power of attorney.”
Healthcare proxies are only effective when a person requires medical treatment, and the treating doctor decides that the patient cannot communicate their decisions relating to the medical treatment.
The person who is designated a proxy has the power to make all medical-related decisions on the patient’s behalf. In essence, healthcare proxies could potentially make life-and-death decisions for the patient, so the proxy needs to know the patient’s healthcare wishes and religious beliefs.
Who Can Be a Healthcare Proxy?
A person selected as a healthcare proxy is responsible for making critical medical decisions for the patient and can engage in the following activities:
- Preventing/approving surgeries or treatments
- Speaking with the doctors
- Whether or not to use artificial nutrients and hydration
- Whether or not to agree to organ donation
- Choice of healthcare facility
- Release of patient’s medical records
A patient can appoint anyone as their healthcare proxy, such as a friend or a family member, and also evoke their proxy powers at any time. Most healthcare proxy documents have permission to name a second person as the backup proxy, if the main proxy cannot fulfill their duties satisfactorily.
You should remember that the healthcare proxy you select can only make medical-related decisions on your behalf. The healthcare proxy cannot make any decisions regarding your finances or paying bills. You must appoint a person as your legal power of attorney to do this.
The laws governing healthcare proxies can vary greatly from state to state in the US. So, you should consult with an experienced family lawyer familiar with the state laws regarding healthcare proxies and drafting a healthcare proxy document.
What Is the Purpose of a Healthcare Proxy?
The main purpose of a healthcare proxy is to be a trustworthy individual when you are incapacitated and cannot make sound decisions relating to your medical treatment. Choosing a healthcare proxy is a personal decision, and there are different reasons why patients may, or may not choose to have a healthcare proxy present.
For many people, a healthcare proxy offers a sense of comfort, knowing that someone trusted is responsible for making the right decisions on their behalf, in case the patient cannot do so.
For terminally ill patients, selecting a healthcare proxy assures them that they will be cared for by someone who thinks with their best interest at heart. For people facing an uncertain future, this can prove to be extremely comforting, especially if they suffer from a life-threatening ailment.
How Does a Healthcare Proxy Work?
A healthcare proxy allows a patient to designate another person they trust to express their wishes when it comes to receiving medical treatment if the patient cannot speak for themselves. It is not necessary that only terminally-ill patients, or elderly patients, can appoint a healthcare proxy.
In fact, a healthcare proxy will only become effective when your doctor decides that you, as the patient, cannot make sound decisions regarding medical treatment. Some states in the US require a doctor to certify that the patient is incapacitated so the patient can appoint a healthcare proxy for themselves.
The patient uses the healthcare proxy document to grant proxy powers with specific permissions and restricts this power. The proxy should be fully aware of the following information about a patient:
- The patient’s beliefs related to health, illness, and death
- The patient’s medical treatment choices, such as comfort care and life-sustaining care
- The patient’s religious beliefs
- Aware of the responsibilities of the doctors, nurses, caregivers, and the hospital
People commonly appoint a healthcare proxy along with a living will. The proxy can use your living will to guide medical decisions on the patient’s behalf. As per the state regulations, sometimes healthcare proxies are combined with a living will into an advanced directive document.
There is a stark difference between a healthcare proxy and a power of attorney. The former is responsible only for making medical treatment-related decisions on the patient’s behalf. On the other hand, the latter is allowed to make financial and personal decisions by the patient. Healthcare proxies provide severely ill patients with much-need peace of mind and comfort, knowing that their medical treatment decisions are in the hands of a trustworthy person.