Monday, May 12, 2008

Family medical crisis

My apologies, but I've been helping to manage my father's care through his recent hospitalization. I will spare you the frustration and heartache of the details, other than to share the good news that he will be going home from the hospital later in the week.

What I do want to share is this: Make sure you and your loved ones all have health care proxies.

Besides having someone you trust to make health care decisions if you are not able to, the health care proxy is someone the doctors and hospital staff can and will talk to about treatment and status. The government passed a law a number of years ago, called HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Among other things, it prohibits medical staff from discussing patient care without prior authorization from the patient. In an emergency situation, you may not be able to get information about a loved one's status unless you are the health care proxy.

With my father ill and out of state and the rest of my family medicine-naive, it falls to me to 'translate' what's happening into language they can understand. Because I am my father's health care proxy, physicians returned my calls and communicated with me about my father's care, even though he is (now) alert and oriented and able to make decisions for himself. The proxy allowed me to act as his advocate in a way I wouldn't have been able to otherwise.

Please. DO NOT WAIT for a medical emergency to have this important issue dealt with. You don't need a lawyer to draw up health care proxy papers. Most hospitals have the paperwork.

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