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  • Writer's pictureAlan D. Feller, Esq.

What is a Health Care Proxy and how does it work?

There are feelings of hope and fear when visiting a loved one in a hospital. Hope is the expectation that medical intervention will lead to a recovery. Fear is understanding the realities of how an illness adversely impacts a person’s body. Hospitalizations are exercises in coordination and task management. Healthcare decision-making may not solely reside with the patient, especially if the patient is compromised or not communicative. A health care proxy is a person authorized to make health care decisions on behalf of another. Health care proxies can consent to medical procedures or withhold consent. Proxies are entitled to the complete medical record of the patient. Discharge planning is also arranged with the Health Care Proxy.

A Health Care Proxy form is signed by the document creator and witnessed by two individuals. A single proxy serves at a time with alternates allowed to be named in case the current proxy can no longer act. The executed Health Care Proxy form should be copied and handed to all the medical practitioners who work with the form creator. The Proxy can also be prominently displayed on a refrigerator for EMT’s to access. Health Care Proxy forms will name the Proxy and show their phone number and address for easy communication.

Hospitals will routinely ask a family member if they are the Health Care Proxy before releasing medical information by phone or in person. Not having a proxy in place complicates the decision-making process, but there is procedure in New York that offers a solution.

Before 2010, an Article 81 Guardianship of the Person was required to appoint a healthcare decisionmaker if no proxy existed. Besides being costly, the proceeding took up valuable time.

In 2010, the Family Health Care Decisions Act in New York allowed for a nursing home patient or hospital patient to have a health care decisionmaker designated without an executed Health Care Proxy form. The order of priority according to the law is: Legal Guardian, Spouse/Domestic Partner, Adult Child, Parent, Sibling, Close Friend.

Being a Health Care Proxy means that you are directing the care of a someone very close to you. Sometimes the decisions are minor in scope and other times your answers will chart an impactful course in the patient’s treatment. Your decisions should be based on your knowledge of the patient, their wishes, and the most up-to-date medical information for the patient.

When a person is very sick, the health care proxy can be a voice of compassion and protection. We encourage people to complete a Health Care Proxy so that their care can be trusted to the people in their lives who will take that responsibility to heart. Please reach out to the professionals at Sloan and Feller today for more information.



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