What Is a Patient Advocate?
What happens if you or a family member is too injured or ill to make medical decisions for themselves? In Michigan, you can designate someone to be your “patient advocate” in the event that you lose the mental capacity to make healthcare decisions for yourself. You can designate any adult over the age of 18, but it is important to choose this person wisely.
Whether or not you have a patient advocate is up to you, but it can be a useful component of an overall estate plan. If you choose not to have a patient advocate you may have difficulty with the course of your medical care. Sometimes a spouse or child will have a say, but by law, even close family members do not have the right to make your decisions for you without the proper patient advocate designation or health care power of attorney. Instead, the family may have to file a proceeding in probate court to appoint a guardianship, which could result in decisions that are not what you would have preferred had you planned ahead.
How Do I Start?
Meet with your elder law and estate planning attorney, who can talk with you about choosing a patient advocate. Your attorney will help you through the process, which will include drafting an advance directive expressing your wishes, along with a health care power of attorney.
There are some requirements that must be met to validly designate a patient advocate. You must be of sound mind when you choose your patient advocate. You must have two witnesses sign, and the person you choose to be your patient advocate must also sign to accept the responsibility.
What Can I Have My Patient Advocate Do on My Behalf?
Your patient advocate can be empowered to make healthcare decisions that are in your best interest for you if you are too injured or ill to do so for yourself. This can include giving informed consent to medical treatment, refusing consent, and arrange for care or treatment in a hospital or nursing home. There are also optional abilities you can give such as arranging and deciding on mental health treatment, arranging for organ or body donation after you pass away, and withdrawing or withholding life support (except, under Michigan law, if you are pregnant).
In an optional section, you can make clear your “Statement of Wishes” that details the type of care you would like to receive and what your preferences are.
When a person has not designated a proper patient advocate, or otherwise made clear his or her end-of-life wishes, the law requires that life support is maintained even if that’s not what you would have wanted.
Steps Once You Have Designated a Patient Advocate
Keep the signed original for yourself in a safe place so that you can take it with you and present it to individuals who may need to see it.
Make copies and either mail or bring them to:
- The Peace of Mind Registry, a state-wide registry that holds records of these designations
- Your primary care provider
- Close family members who would need to know who your designated patient advocate is and how to contact them if necessary.
- The hospitals you visit or the hospital in closest proximity to your residence.
- Any other medical facilities such as nursing homes or clinics where you regularly receive medical care or anticipate needing to.
Today’s Answer was provided by Don L. Rosenberg, Attorney and Counselor, of the Law Firm Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras in Troy, Michigan.