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Health Care Agents: Appointing One and Being One

How should I handle my personal feelings when acting as a health care agent? continued...

Unacknowledged feelings can make you very angry, and your anger may come out in inappropriate ways such as arguing with doctors, nurses, and others caring for the patient or with family members. Creating conflict when it is unnecessary will make it more difficult for you to get information and be an effective advocate. Anger can even hurt the care of the patient if the focus of those caring for the patient shifts from dealing with the patient's needs to dealing with you.

It is perfectly appropriate to seek help. People without medical experience cannot be expected to understand the health care systems and the medical issues that are involved. You should expect to need guidance in dealing with them. Some physicians can be quite sympathetic to the issues you are dealing with and, if asked, will try to help.

If you feel particularly comfortable with a nurse, talk with him or her. Chaplains often have a great deal of experience dealing with individuals and families struggling with difficult decisions and can be very helpful, even if you do not share a common religious outlook. Patient representatives and social workers also may be resources. Look to your own friends and communities. Sometimes people you do not know well, but who have gone through similar situations, can be a wealth of support and information.

Serving as a health care agent is both an honor and a responsibility. You have probably been asked to serve because you have a personal and emotional connection to the person making the appointment. The person trusts you and believes you can use your best judgment. There is no ideal standard for the perfect agent.

You can only do the best job that you can do. This booklet highlights some of the challenges an agent may face and offers suggestions for possible responses; however, the situations covered here may never occur or you may encounter different ones. If you are called upon to act as a health care agent, it may help to bear in mind that you are providing a deeply-needed service to someone who is now helpless. This knowledge can be a source of great personal comfort and satisfaction for you and can sustain you when making difficult decisions.

Glossary Advance Directive

A general term that describes two kinds of legal documents, living wills and medical powers of attorney. These documents allow you to give instructions about future medical care and appoint a person to make health care decisions if you are unable to make them yourself. Each state regulates the use of advance directives differently.

 

Benefits and Burdens

A commonly used guideline for deciding whether or not to begin or stop medical treatments. A benefit can refer to the successful outcome of a medical procedure or treatment. Outcomes can be medical (e.g. the heart beats again) or functional (e.g. the person is able to walk to the bathroom after being incapacitated by a stroke), or one that supports the patient's values (e.g. the patient is able to die at home as wished).

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WebMD Medical Reference from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

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