Will Your Advanced Health Directive Help You In An Emergency?
You’ve had an advanced health directive, often called a living will, drawn up along with your other legal documents. This vital document tells medical people how you should be treated if you can’t speak for yourself. It also names a health proxy to speak for you. This advanced directive is also included in a Power Of Attorney for health. You congratulate yourself on getting this task done. You’re confident that your wishes will be followed no matter what happens to your health.
But will your wishes be followed? Maybe not. Much depends on where you have stored copies of your advanced directive, or more importantly, where you haven’t. Health care facilities have been known to misplace such documents or have them so buried in your records that they aren’t found in time to help you.
More often, however, hospitals can’t follow the patient’s wishes because people keep their documents nice and safe at home in a drawer, or even a safe deposit box. This is one instance where safe and secure isn’t what you want. Your advanced directive needs to be accessible at a moment’s notice.
If a doctor is working to save your life in an emergency situation, in most cases he or she will continue to do so unless instructed to do otherwise so having a copy of your health directive in your medical records is crucial. It’s also crucial to leave backup copies with the person or people who can act for you.
In a New Old Age Blog post by Paula Span titled “When Advance Directives Are Ignored,” Span quotes Charlie Sabatino, chairman of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging. “Though many of us have heard stories about a surgeon who insists a patient won’t die on his watch, I don’t think that’s the norm,” Sabatino says. “What happens more often is that these things aren’t getting where they’re supposed to be.”
That’s why your responsibility doesn’t end after you’ve had the document drawn up. You not only have to make these documents available to physicians treating you, but for your family, as well.
As for clinics, hospitals and emergency rooms, I’d suggest that you mention your advanced directive when you have a yearly physical or any checkup with a doctor who works with your chosen hospital system. Ask the nurse to double check. If he or she can bring it up quickly, chances are that the ER and hospital employees can, too. If the document isn’t quickly found, make sure that error is corrected either by delivering another hard copy or seeing to it that they have updated your records.
Speaking of updated records, do remember that you can change your health directive at any time. But if you do, trace your steps as to where the old copies are and make sure that the new one is substituted.
One of the reasons for an advance directive or living will is to provide your family with guidance about what you’d want at a time when they most need it. The people who love you and will represent you need to be as sure as possible about what you'd want done or not done under the circumstances. You went to the trouble of drawing up the document. Take a few extra precautions by making sure that your loved ones remember where they stashed their copy of your advanced directive.
If you have a disease that requires frequent emergency runs, maintain a folder of appropriate medical information including the advanced directive in a handy place so EMTs can be directed to the information when the ambulance arrives.
I, personally, keep copies of health directives for the people who I’m responsible for in my car, along with a copy of my own, because often the time we need one is when we are most stressed. There’s been an emergency. We want to be at our loved one’s side. Ask yourself if, under those circumstances, you'd actually remember stop and pick up the document on the way to the ER?
Your advanced directive/ living will is a living document not a death document. You want it at the ready when needed.
Span, P. (2014, June 14) When Advance Directives Are Ignored. The New Old Age Blog. Retrieved from http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/24/when-advance-directives-are-ignored/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0