What is a Health Care Directive?

When you become incapacitated and cannot make decisions for yourself, a health care directive allows someone you trust to make decisions on your behalf regarding any treatment you receive. This could include how you want to be kept comfortable and pain-free as much as possible; whether or not resuscitative measures or tube feeding would be desired, organ or tissue donation after death (depending on state laws), and more. A health care directive is a legal document; its terms vary by state and having one in place can ease loved ones of having decision-making responsibility during difficult times while upholding all your wishes.

Health care directives are documents that form part of an advance medical plan, along with a power of attorney for healthcare and living will. Also referred to as health care proxy or durable power of attorney for healthcare, these may also be known as healthcare proxy, medical power of attorney or durable power of attorney for healthcare in some states. In some instances, states combine an advance health care directive with power of attorney for healthcare to create one document known as an advance health care directive or physician orders for scope of treatment (POLST) or medical orders for life-sustaining treatment (MOLST).

An advance health care directive serves the primary goal of communicating your wishes regarding medical treatment should you become incapable of speaking for yourself. Discuss these decisions with family and write them down. If hospitalized, ask the nurse to arrange for a trained hospital representative such as a chaplain or social worker who can discuss options with you and assist in creating your advance health care directive.

Review your advance directives regularly and upon any major life changes such as retirement or moving. It is especially important to review them if your health issue could lead to death or incapacitation – updating them will reflect current choices and preferences more accurately.

Advance directives must be in writing in order to be valid, and you can find forms on state websites and from organizations like AARP. You don’t need a lawyer in order to create these documents – although one might help with questions or issues.

One study demonstrated that even when loved ones are asked what their patient would like, they often misjudge what is best. An advance directive can reduce uncertainty and ensure your wishes are honored.

At first glance, advance directives may seem only relevant for older or ill individuals; however, anyone can benefit from having one in place. A health emergency can happen at any age and without one, the law decides who has authority to make decisions for you; that could include your spouse, children or parents but might not necessarily represent your best interests.

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