In healthcare, you may hear people talking about an important document called the Power of Attorney for Healthcare (POAHC). This is referred to as an advanced directive that gives healthcare providers direction and guidance to provide the care that an individual desires. The POAHC is filled out by an individual (referred to as the principal) while they are able to make decisions for themselves so they will have input into directing their care if and when they become unable to make decisions.
The POAHC forms can be obtained online at https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/forms/advdirectives or through a healthcare facility. A lawyer is not required to fill out the form. The form does require the principal to designate someone (identified as the POAHC agent) and also an alternate (in case the first person is not available) to make decisions if the need arises. The agent will have the authority to make decisions only if two healthcare professionals sign a Statement of Incapacitation stating the individual is unable to make their own decisions. When a person designates a POAHC agent, the principal still makes their own healthcare decisions while they are able.
An example of when the POAHC may need to be activated would be an accident or illness that causes coma or dependence on artificial life support. Another example would be when a person has deterioration in their mental functioning causing confusion or memory loss such that they can no longer make decisions. In some cases, the need for POAHC may be temporary and as the individual’s condition improves, it can be deactivated. Deactivation again requires the signatures of two healthcare professionals to state that person is no longer incapacitated.
It is important the individual creating the POAHC choose someone they trust and who knows what they would want done. The form does allow the principal to express some of their wishes in writing about certain issues regarding tube feeding, nursing home placement, and end of life care.
The POAHC is different than the POA for Finances. These are separate documents but sometimes there is confusion. The POA for finances does not grant another person authority to make healthcare decisions. Also, in Wisconsin, a spouse does not automatically have authority to make health decisions.
Once a POAHC form is completed, a copy is kept by the individual, a copy is given to the people who have been designated to serve as agents, and a copy is given to the healthcare provider. Currently these forms can be scanned into the electronic medical record so it will be visible to all associated healthcare providers who have access to the electronic medical record.
If a POAHC form is not available, and an individual becomes unable to make their own decisions, a physician would have to request a legal guardian be appointed through the court system. This can be time consuming and lead to treatment that the person may not have wanted. This also means the individual would not be the one to choose who they want to make their healthcare decisions.
POAHC forms can be created at any time after age 18. The document should be updated as necessary. Statistics show the percentage of people with POAHC increases with age. It is fair to say that as we age we become more aware of our mortality. While we don’t like to dwell on the issues of our care, if something bad were to happen, taking some time to fill out a POAHC will give you the power to be involved in decisions about your care and allow your family or friends the opportunity to help make sure you get the care you desire. Stay healthy my friends.
By: P. Michael Shattuck, M.D. – Community Health Network Family Physician