Monday, February 19, 2018

Frequently Asked Questions about Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA)

by Lizzy Miles (@LizzyMiles_MSW)

Sometimes when we encourage patients to complete a Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA), the patient declines the offer based on mistaken assumptions they have about the document. We never want to push a patient into doing something they don't want to do, however, sometimes their resistance is based on a misunderstanding. In an attempt to help address mistaken beliefs and/or concerns, I created a FAQ for our patients. This also can be used for staff as talking points for the discussion.

I don’t need one, I am my own decision-maker and I always plan to be.
As long as you are able to speak for yourself, you are your own decision-maker. However, as part of the disease process, many hospice patients get to a point where they are unable to express their own wishes. When you designate a HCPOA who understands your point of view, they can step in and tell us what you would want in a situation when you’re not able to tell us.

I want to maintain my independence. I don’t want to give up control.
A HCPOA only has authority to speak when you are no longer able to share your own preferences. As long as you are still able to indicate your wishes, will we ask YOU.

I don’t have anyone I trust to make my health care decisions.
If you don’t have a designated decision-maker, you could end up having someone you don’t want or don’t know making decisions for you if you can’t express your own wishes. If you don’t know of anyone in your friends/family circle that you can designate, you could contact a professional representative such as a lawyer.  Remember, as long as you are able to express your own wishes, we will ask you what you want.

My next of kin (next closest relative) would be my decision-maker. Why do I need a form too?
When you designate a HCPOA, you are creating a written document of whom you want to represent you when you are no longer able to speak for yourself. This extra step can be helpful for other family members to know that you’ve confirmed in writing who you trust to speak for you.

I have a big family. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
We rarely see hurt feelings in families as a result of a patient completing this document. In fact, written documentation with this specification of who you choose to be your future decision maker makes decisions easier. Sometimes with big families there can be many different opinions expressed. A written document designates a point person of your choosing to make the final call. Each family is different. If you think it might be helpful, you could tell your family why you chose certain individuals. Ultimately, it is a bigger challenge to family dynamics to NOT have this paperwork.

I may change my mind.
If you are still able to make your own decisions, you can always change the paperwork.

I don’t want to think about this right now.
It’s understandable that the thought of having someone else making decisions on your behalf may be unpleasant. We encourage patients to complete the paperwork now rather than later because it can bring peace of mind. A completed Health Care Power of Attorney will assure you that if/when you are no longer able to speak for yourself that your representative is someone you chose.

I have a document from another state.  Isn’t that good here?
It could be. If you completed a valid legal document in another state to designate your Health Care Power of Attorney, our state's medical professionals might be able to honor it. We need to review it to be sure. We recommend that you share your document with hospice staff to ensure that we understand your choices for decision-makers.

I think I completed a Health Care Power of Attorney before but I don’t have a copy. 
If you don’t know where your document is, then we are unable to honor it. If/when you are not able to make your own decisions, we would need a copy of the written documentation of your chosen decision-maker. This is for your own protection to ensure we are checking in with the right person.

Can’t I just tell you who would be my decision-maker?
You could, but in the event that you have interaction with other medical professionals, they wouldn’t know what you told us. When you put your preferences in writing, it’s a physical document that you can share with whomever is providing care.

We hope you found this FAQ to be helpful. Let us know via Twitter, Facebook or email.
Feel free to use this article in your workplace with the attribution:

 Used with permission from @LizzyMiles_MSW and

Lizzy Miles, MA, MSW, LSW is a hospice social worker in Columbus, Ohio and a regular contributor to Pallimed. She is the author of a book of happy hospice stories: Somewhere In Between: The Hokey Pokey, Chocolate Cake and the Shared Death Experience. Lizzy is best known for bringing the Death Cafe concept to the United States. You can find her on Twitter @LizzyMiles_MSW.

Photo credits
Title Photo Thien Dang on Unsplash
Monkeys Park troopers on Unsplash
Shoes Photo by Matheus Bertelli from Pexels

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