I’m a Healthcare Power of Attorney, Now What?

During the later portion of our lives, we tend to consume more healthcare services than any other time. As parents and other loved ones age, it is important for family to assist in navigating them through the healthcare maze. We all want to be informed consumers and have good information to make good choices. While often a crisis such as a fall or diagnosis is what spurs action and conversation within families, part of the responsibility that comes with the gift of longevity is planning for the beauty and the challenges of long life.  

One of the first steps to take in setting up a safety net for your loved one is to put together a legal document called a Durable Power of Attorney. Some individuals choose to designate a Healthcare Power of Attorney and a separate Financial Power of Attorney to spread out the responsibilities of advocacy among the family. By creating the document as a “durable” Power of Attorney it will still be in effect in the event your loved one is no longer able to make decisions. You can choose to have it take effect in the event they are incapacitated or at the time it is signed.   

Responsibilities of a Healthcare Power of Attorney

If you were suddenly unable to speak for yourself in an emergency, what kind of treatment and life-sustaining measures would you like to take? Who would be there to speak for you? By setting up a Healthcare Power of Attorney, you legally designate your advocate to speak on your behalf and make those treatment decisions for you if you are unable to do so. As healthcare and long-term care services can impact living arrangements and be some of the most costly expenses, the Healthcare POAs and Financial POAs will work closely with one another if separate people have been designated for those roles.  

Tips for a Healthcare Power of Attorney

In the event that a loved one is no longer able to partially or fully manage their healthcare decisions, a Healthcare Power of Attorney is able to access medical records; authorize admission or discharge to hospitals, residential care, assisted living facilities, etc.; hire and fire medical or long-term care services; and agree or refuse medical treatment. If you are thinking about your own family or already are a Healthcare DPOA for someone, here are a few tips to help you step into this role and execute your duties with equanimity and care:    

  • Have the Conversation: One of the most important things to remember is that wishes and values that are not communicated cannot be followed. Have a conversation with the person you are representing to make sure you understand and can execute their priorities faithfully even in a difficult situation. While it is an uncomfortable topic, be sure to talk about end-of-life wishes as well. Get specific. Often we’ll make general statements like, “I just don’t want extreme measures taken.” Have your loved one define the broad terms they are using and talk about the specific choices they would make in specific scenarios. The more information you have the better advocate you can be for them.
  • Assess their Insurance Coverage: When it comes to choosing long-term care services or facilities, knowing what is covered by insurance is crucial for both Healthcare and Financial DPOAs. While many people believe that long-term care services are covered by Medicare, they are not. Take a look at your loved one’s Medicare coverage plan to ensure that they are getting appropriate coverage at the best rates. Once a year, during open enrollment, individuals are allowed to asses and make changes to their plans. One configuration of coverage may have served them well in the past, but is no longer meeting their needs now. Ask if they have a Long-Term Care Insurance policy as well and know what type of coverage they have. LTC Insurance is intended to mitigate the costs of those care services not covered by Medicare.
  • Catalog Doctors and Medical Professionals: Make a list of all those professionally involved in the care of your aging loved one. Make sure to document any specialists along with the specific conditions they are treating. Having consolidated contact information for these physicians and healthcare professionals will save a great deal of time and stress in an emergency, especially if you live long-distance from your loved one.
  • Asses their Advance Directives: Make sure you know if your loved one has a Living Will and what it says. It is important that the information is up-to-date and reflects their current wishes and values. Consider helping them fill out a POLST form, or Physicians Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment. This is a portable form that details basic life sustaining treatment wishes for ER doctors, emergency responders, and in-home caregivers, etc.
  • Catalog Medications: Medications can be one of the most complicated aspects of helping an aging loved one or parent age well. Changing dosages and prescriptions can be difficult to stay on top of and many are left wondering, “Are they taking their medications properly?” Take this list with you when accompanying your aging loved one to their appointments and note changes to implement in their routine.  
  •  Get Organized: Once you’ve gathered the important documentation, get organized with an app that will give family members and professionals easy access to pertinent information in an emergency or just for planning purposes. The American Bar Association has a great app called, “My Healthcare Wishes”. http://www.americanbar.org/groups/law_aging/MyHealthCareWishesApp.html
  • Get Help: Whether it is coordinating doctor appointments, choosing appropriate care, managing diets and chronic illnesses, or making treatment decisions, it can be overwhelming to help a loved one age well. Elder care has a steep learning curve and it can feel impossible to know everything you need to know to make the decisions you have to make. A Geriatric Care Manager can navigate, educate, coordinate, and guide the care of your loved one. As RNs and MSWs, they specialize in the care of older adults and provide advocacy, crisis management in emergencies, as well as planning for the future.

For 25 years, Sound Options has helped many individuals step into the role of Healthcare Power of Attorney. Our elite team of Care Managers and In-Home Caregivers support families with the very best guidance and care from the experts. Give us a call today at 800.628.7649.

To find a Certified Geriatric Care Manager anywhere in the United States you can visit: http://www.caremanager.org/

Published on October 24, 2014.