Planning Ahead for Medical Emergencies

Medical emergencies can happen to anyone in a matter of seconds. Whether a result of an accident or disease, life can change quickly from normal to fragile. While nobody enjoys thinking about the possibility, the truth is that there is a lot you can do now to prepare for a potential medical emergency. Having a plan in place can guide your loved ones as they navigate making decisions on your behalf and informing your medical team of your wishes. 

The best way to prepare for a medical emergency is to have the legal paperwork in place to allow your family to stay informed, authorize someone to make decisions for you, and provide direction on your wishes related to your care. Below is an overview of some of the medical documents you should have in place.

HIPAA release

You are likely familiar with signing HIPAA releases. HIPAA is important, as it is the federal law that ensures patient privacy. Unless you provide consent, a medical provider cannot share information about your condition. In the event of a medical emergency, you need a HIPAA release for information to be shared with anyone, including your designated power of attorney. Having a HIPAA release signed before an emergency will allow designated individuals to receive updates about your condition from your medical team.

Durable power of attorney

Power of attorney gives a chosen caregiver the legal authority to make financial and medical decisions if you are unable to make those decisions yourself. In the absence of a power of attorney, individual state law determines who can make medical decisions for a patient. A durable power of attorney is one that remains in effect until the individual granting that authority dies or revokes the document. 

Advance directive or living will

When a patient has a stroke, is unconscious, or cannot think or communicate clearly, they cannot communicate their desires for medical care. Often, family is left to determine what a person would want in the situation and must make difficult decisions. An advance directive or living will is a document that states medical wishes for end-of-life care, organ donation, and other situations. Having an advance directive in place removes the burden of family members having to make those decisions on your behalf.

Physician’s orders for life-sustaining treatment (POLST)

This is another document that clarifies your preferences for end-of-life care and lifesaving measures. While an advance directive or living will communicates similar preferences, a POLST or a DNR (do not resuscitate) form is important to have as well. Emergency services do not recognize advance directives or living wills and will attempt to resuscitate all patients who do not have a POLST or DNR in place.

While facing the possibility of medical emergencies is not pleasant, it can bring peace of mind to know your wishes will be followed as closely as possible. If you need help creating any of these documents, contact an attorney who specializes in this area.