Doctors Can Assist in Communication with Health Care Proxy

In past blog posts, we’ve discussed the importance of designating a trustworthy, capable family member or friend to make important decisions about one’s estate in the event that the estate holder becomes incapacitated or unable to make those decisions alone. When it comes to medical decisions, this person is known as a health care proxy.

A health care proxy is often a spouse or an adult child of the estate holder, someone who knows the person well — including his or her medical issues. If you become unable to communicate with doctors about your health issues, your health care proxy will step into that role and make important medical decisions for you. But simply designating a health care proxy isn’t enough if the person you choose doesn’t know your true wishes.

The failure to communicate these wishes, especially when it comes to hospice and other end-of-life care, is common among elderly and/or chronically ill patients. Even if the patient is comfortable with her own choices about not wanting to be resuscitated or the desire to die at home instead of at a hospital, she may not feel ready to talk to her husband or children for fear they won’t understand, or become too upset to discuss the matter. This fear often leads to a lack of communication, which then leads to treatment that the patient doesn’t truly want.

A patient’s doctor can be of great help in these situations by acting as a liaison between a patient and his health care proxy. By continually explaining different possibilities and options in the patient’s medical care, the conversation can be open and ongoing so that the patient and his health care proxy not only fully understand the choices they make, but fully come to terms with them before it comes time to put them into action.

Source:, “Doctors have a duty to encourage patients to discuss end-of-life wishes,” Kiran Gupta, Feb. 20, 2013