A healthcare surrogate, or medical proxy is the person you name to advocate for your medical wishes and make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to do so.
Be aware that you cannot appoint your primary care physician or any other healthcare practitioner involved in your care, unless they are related to you by blood, marriage or adoption. You should consider naming an alternative representative or two to step in if your primary representative is not available. Once you’ve chosen someone, make sure those close to you and your doctor or healthcare provider knows who you have chosen to represent your interests.
Considerations when choosing a healthcare surrogate:
- Are they assertive? You want someone who is comfortable speaking with healthcare providers and advocating for you.
- Are they comfortable talking about death? They will need to speak openly about death and dying.
- Do they live nearby? When a health crisis occurs, having someone local can be important.
- Will they respect my decisions? They need to understand where you’re coming from and be willing to honor your requests.
Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare Decisions
The key difference of a durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions from other types of surrogates is that it endures even after you have become incapacitated. In other words, you want to authorize a durable power of attorney if:
- You want to give the person authority only if you are unable to act for yourself; or
- You want to give the person immediate authority that continues after you are unable to act for yourself.
Access to Medical Records
The best way to avoid an inability to access medical information and/or decision-making disputes is through the execution of an advance directive, where you will name appropriate agents (health care surrogate) and authorize the release of medical records to such designated persons.
Your surrogate will have the authority to make all health care treatment decisions. They must be provided access to your medical records and information regarding medical conditions and prognoses. Additionally, your surrogate becomes your “Personal Representative” under HIPAA, which entitles the surrogate to the same rights as you, the patient, as it relates to disclosure of medical records and information.
In addition, you or your health care surrogate can complete a HIPAA Release Form (see below) to designate others who may have access to your medical records and information,
HIPAA Release Form
A HIPAA Release Form is a document that allows the release of your medical records which are protected under HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). On the form you, or your health care surrogate, provide the name(s) of designated representative(s) who are permitted to receive your medical records and health information. A HIPAA Release form can be revoked or reassigned at any time by the patient.
An important step in having the conversation about your wishes for care through the end of life is choosing a health care proxy (also known as a health care agent, power of attorney for health care, or surrogate decision-maker). The Conversation Project offers tools on how to start the conversation and resources guides on how to choose or how to be a Health Care Proxy. GET STARTED HERE.