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Help your doctor, your family, and yourself.

When you need medical care, your doctor or the hospital is required to get your permission before beginning treatment. That permission can be difficult or even impossible to get if you are incapacitated or unconscious. Many times, hospitals will require a signed document authorizing a patient advocate to give this permission for you if you cannot. Without one, hospitals and doctors may require a court order before providing non-life-saving treatment or before withholding treatment that you may not want. A caregiver can also be nominated to assist with the coordination of your care upon discharge from the hospital. The advocate and caregiver are typically the same person, but do not have to be. An advocate could make life-ending decisions, where as a caregiver coordinator, may just follow up to make sure you take your prescriptions or get to appointments and other post-op care.

Joint vs. Individual Authority.

Perhaps the most overlooked factor to consider in deciding who to appoint as your patient advocate is whether to appoint one person or multiple people. The simplest choice is to appoint one person to act on your behalf. That person can make spot decisions without needing to consult with other people.

When you appoint multiple people, you should always make sure that they are in agreement. You might also consider appointing an odd number of people so that a majority vote is possible or you might require a unanimous decision. Either way, it’s important to make sure everyone you appoint has the information needed if you want to avoid conflict among your family members. When a conflict arises, doctors and hospitals may require a court order to resolve them, even where your document states that a majority vote is sufficient.

Make their decision easier.

Sometimes, family members don’t want to have to make the really hard decisions. It can be a heavy burden to have to decide whether to ‘pull the plug’ on a parent or sibling. You can ease the decision making process ahead of time by completing a living will for your patient advocate. This informs them of your wishes for the most difficult end-of-life health care decisions.