How to be an Effective Healthcare Decision-Maker for Your Loved One
Choosing a person to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to speak for yourself is one of the most important steps you can take for your future wellbeing. That person will stand up for you and guard your wishes in order to ensure that you receive the type of care you want in any situation.
But what if the patient is one of your loved ones and YOU have been named as the decision-maker? Are you prepared to make the best possible healthcare choices for that person? Here are some questions you will need to answer in order to be an effective healthcare proxy or advocate for someone you love.
- Do you know what your loved one values most?
Understanding what is most important to your loved one will help you make decisions about end-of-life issues that may not have been discussed in detail. For example, my mother told me that more than anything else she wanted to be in her own home during her final days of life. That one wish of hers became the guide for all other decisions I had to make as she approached death, such as the decision to forego surgery and take her home from the hospital and the decision to engage home hospice services to help with her care.
Spend time discussing the end of life with your loved ones, perhaps over several different conversations, in order to fully understand their values and choices. Ask questions until you have a clear picture of their wishes and take notes so you will remember what you have learned.
- Can you agree with your loved one’s choices?
In order to be a strong advocate for your loved one you should either be in agreement with his or her preferences or be willing to set aside your own feelings. If you are conflicted about the choices that have been made you may find it very difficult to speak on behalf of your loved one in a moment of crisis when emotions are high.
Be honest with your loved one if you don’t support their wishes but don’t try to change their opinion. If you can’t find a way to accept their choices after spending time in conversation then perhaps you are not the right person to be their advocate. Help your loved one find someone else who might be able to advocate for him or her without feeling conflicted.
- Are you willing to be available at a moment’s notice?
Difficult healthcare decisions are often required in emergency situations when there is no time to prepare or plan ahead. As a decision-maker you could be called to come to the hospital in the middle of the night or during a busy work day and you have to be willing to be inconvenienced on behalf of your loved one.
Make sure you will be able to interrupt your normal routine to follow through with this commitment. Have a back-up plan in place in case you need to leave home or your workplace on sudden notice.
- Can you handle the emotional stress of difficult decisions?
You may be called upon to make life or death choices for your loved one, such as whether or not to use artificial life support to sustain a heartbeat. The emotional distress can be very high in an unexpected emergency and you will need to maintain a clear head in order to work with medical providers to choose the best options.
Being very clear and certain about your loved one’s choices can help you with this task. But also work on your own emotional resilience so you can hold up well during times of crisis. Journaling, meditation or prayer, and reading about end-of-life issues can help you be better prepared for the challenges you may face as a healthcare proxy.
- Can you stand firm if others disagree with you?
Advocating for the wishes of a loved one can get tricky if medical providers or other family members disagree with the choices that have been made. You will need to be strong enough to hold your ground if others argue against your loved one’s preferences and able to tolerate their disapproval.
Ask your loved ones to include as many family members as possible in conversations about end-of-life wishes. Disagreements and misunderstandings can be avoided if there is good communication and an opportunity to ask questions about those wishes long before the time when difficult decisions are required.
Being an informed and supportive healthcare proxy is one of the most caring roles you can fulfill on behalf of your loved one. Frequent conversations about goals and wishes for the end of life will help you prepare for this task and be ready for anything unexpected that may occur.
Ultimately you will be grateful for the opportunity to serve your loved one in this way and, as happened for me, your grief will be lessened by the knowledge that you helped his or her last wishes become a reality.