An important part of patient safety is ensuring you are aware of your options and opportunities for care.
It is therefore essential you know your rights, especially in the event you are unable to speak for yourself and make your wishes known. If you are unable to make your own health care decisions an advance directive will insure that your desires for treatment are followed.
Allow us to clarify a few common misconceptions about advance directives:
"I don’t need an advanced directive unless I have a serious illness."
All adults are encouraged to complete an advanced directives document and designate a patient advocate. Sudden changes in your health that could leave you unable to speak for ourselves and make the decisions on what treatments we do and do not receive are unpredictable. If this situation were to occur and you did not have an advanced directive, your family would be left to make decisions for you without knowing what is important to you.
"I don’t need to designate a patient advocate. I’m married so my spouse can speak for me."
While it's correct that your spouse will be the first person asked to make decisions for you if you do not have someone else designated, there may be occasions when your spouse cannot be reached and your health care team needs someone to make immediate decisions for you. This is why it is so important to have an advanced directive and to designate a patient advocate along with a secondary patient advocate.
"I filled out my advanced directives packet and named a patient advocate. I’m done now, right?"
You've taken major steps to make your health care decisions known, but the paperwork is not the only important part. Sit down with your family, friends and health care providers and share with them the decisions you have made for your end of life care and why you have made these choices.
"Once I have documented my preferences for my health care decisions in an advanced directive, these choices are written in stone and cannot be changed."
As time goes on our health changes and new illnesses can alter our opinion of what treatments we would or would not want. If you would like to make different choices for yourself in the future, you can simply complete a new advanced directive and this will override any previous directives.
"My family/patient advocate will not have to make any difficult decisions once my advanced directive is done. All the questions they may have will be answered."
Advanced directives give general guidance for your advocate and health care team, but there may still be situations when it is not clear what care should and shouldn't be given. This again reinforces the need to have conversations with your advocate, loved ones and health care team so they can learn what choices you may make.
There are many situations when the “best” plan for your care is not clear. Often it is difficult to balance the risks of treatment with the benefits of the treatment. In these situations, your advocate can make better decisions for you if they know what risks you would be willing to take.
"If I sign this document and assign a patient advocate, they can start making decisions for me and access my records and personal information immediately."
A patient advocate can only make decisions about your health care only. They do not have the ability to conduct personal business such as banking on your behalf and your patient advocate can only make health care decisions for you when you have lost the ability to make decisions for yourself as decided by a physician.
"I must hire a lawyer to complete an advanced directive and patient advocate designation."
You do not need a lawyer to complete these documents and the documents do not need to be notarized. Two witnesses are needed to confirm that you appear to be of sound mind and are not under duress. There are restrictions on who can be a witness - it cannot be someone related to you through blood or marriage, your health care provider or an employee of your provider or someone who would receive an inheritance when you die.