Advance care planning series: Choose

September 27, 2019 Providence Seniors Health Team

Third in a four-part series outlining the basics of advance care planning: Think, Talk, Choose, Complete


Over the past two months, we’ve walked you through the early stages of advance care planning in a four-part series: Think, Talk, Choose, Complete. The series outlines the process of making decisions about the type of care you want if you become unable to make your own healthcare decisions and breaks it down into manageable steps with help from the Institute for Human Caring.

First, we detailed the main points you need to Think through as you get started. Then we gave you some guidelines on how to Talk to your loved ones about what’s important to you. Now we’ll walk you through the basic info you need to know before you Choose the person who will speak for you when you can’t speak for yourself – your healthcare agent.

What is a healthcare agent?

A healthcare agent is a person you appoint to make decisions about your medical care if you are not able to do so. The role is known by many names including:

  • Healthcare proxy
  • Power of attorney for healthcare
  • Attorney-in-fact
  • Healthcare representative
  • Healthcare surrogate

Your healthcare agent is the individual that will represent your interests and wishes when you are unable. A parent or legal guardian is typically your healthcare agent up until you turn 18.

Why do I need a healthcare agent?

It’s difficult to quantify the value of choosing a healthcare agent. Consider this: about half of all people over 65 who are admitted to a hospital are unable to make their own decisions due to health conditions, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). If you have named a healthcare agent, you can be confident that your voice will be heard, despite your inability to make your wishes known.

About half of all people over 65 who are admitted to a hospital are unable to make their own decisions due to health conditions.

A healthcare agent can:

  • Make decisions about accepting or refusing life-sustaining treatment on your behalf
  • Speak with your healthcare team about treatment and medication options
  • Access and release your medical records
  • Agree to treatment or medication
  • Stop treatment or medication
  • Request an autopsy
  • Donate your organs

Choosing a healthcare agent

Almost anyone age 18 and older is eligible to be a healthcare agent – family members, friends, lawyers, people from your church, etc. Your healthcare agent cannot be your healthcare provider or employed by a facility at which you’re a patient. The key is choosing someone you’re confident will honor your choices and be your advocate.

Ask yourself:

  • Does this person understand your goals, beliefs and values?
  • Is this person comfortable taking on the responsibility of this role and all it entails?
  • Is this person someone you trust?
  • Is this person someone you can talk to easily about difficult topics?
  • Is this person someone who supports your healthcare choices?
  • Can this person make difficult decisions in high-stress situations?

The key is choosing someone you’re confident will honor your choices and be your advocate.

Download this guide about how to choose and be a health care proxy.

Making it legal

Naming a healthcare advocate doesn’t require lengthy forms and court appearances. In most cases, you can get the state-specific form online, at your doctor’s office, at the hospital or other facilities where you receive healthcare, or from your local or state government. You will typically need two witnesses who are not related to you to watch you sign and date the form.

The paperwork is fairly easy to complete without the aid of an attorney, but a lawyer can help if you’re not confident proceeding without legal assistance. Keep the original form on file with your other important documents and give copies to your healthcare agent, family, and close friends.

Be a strong advocate

Dr. Ira Byock of the Institute for Human Caring discusses the importance of advocacy for yourself and your loved ones. Watch this video, "Be a strong advocate."


Find a doctor

Your doctor can help you navigate the different steps of advance care planning to provide the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’re prepared. Find a doctor in our provider directory. Or use one of the regional directories below:






Share your thoughts on advance care planning at #aging with readers @psjh.

Related resources

Institute for Human Caring

Advance care planning series: Think

Advanced care planning series: Talk

The Conversation Project

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

Scope and Outcomes of Surrogate Decision Making Among Hospitalized Older Adults

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions.

About the Author

From how to identify and treat heart diseases to exercise tips to maintain an active lifestyle, the Providence Senior's Health team is committed to providing real-world advice that is hyper-relevant to helping those 65+ find ways stay young at heart

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