What is the most important question that your health care provider can ask you? I believe the most important question I ask my patients is “Who is the person that would make your health care decisions if you were unable to?” This person is called a Health Care Agent.
I explain to all my adult patients that I need to know who to speak to regarding their health care decisions if they were unable to advocate for themselves. It surprises me that we routinely identify emergency contacts for trips, school and camps, yet most folks are unaware of the importance of identifying a Health Care Agent.
At Adult Primary Care – South Burlington, we have decided that obtaining a written legal copy of who your health care agent is, a Health Care Agent Form, is now one of our top priorities. You may notice that our staff and providers may talk to you about this and you may even complete your Health Care Agent form at your visit.
If thinking about who your health care agent should be makes you realize that it is time to discuss and plan for other future health care choices, you may benefit from completing a more detailed advance care plan. The next step in advance care planning involves completing a multi-paged form with detailed medical choices. These advance care plan “long” forms clarify what you would or would not want medical professionals to “do” for you in a future medical situation. They help you to direct your health care agent and doctor’s decisions and thus can clarify your choices during medical emergencies.
All of the advance care plans are available at our clinics for you to complete and are also available at the Vermont Ethics Network. We also have special volunteers, at your medical home, who are trained to help you through the process of completing these and you can be referred to these “facilitators” to do this. This wonderful service is free through our community health team and your family and/or friends are welcome to come with you for these discussions.
Why do we welcome your family and/or friends? Because the most important thing you can do is allow your loved ones to hear about your values, beliefs and wishes for your medical care.
Marie Bona Sandoval, MD, is a primary care internal medicine physician at Adult Primary Care – South Burlington where she is also medical director. She is an assistant professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.