Why it’s more important than ever to decide who’ll speak for you in a medical emergency
As a precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals, doctors’ offices and other healthcare facilities are limiting who is allowed through their doors. Often, those who seek care at these facilities must do so alone.
It is a significant change for those who cannot avoid interacting with healthcare facilities right now. If you’re going into labor and delivery, you might be able to have only one person, if any, with you. If you require treatment at a medical facility for a chronic illness, you may simply have to be dropped off outside. If you have a medical emergency such as a heart attack, the person with you may have to wait outside the facility while you receive medical care.
Anytime we need medical treatment, anything could happen. And if you lose consciousness or lose the ability to speak, who would doctors turn to for help in decision-making regarding your treatment?
Fortunately, you can decide. And you can do so now – while you are healthy, alert and not in the middle of a stressful situation.
Deciding simply means declaring a healthcare agent or “proxy,” which is the legal term for the person you appoint to make medical decisions for you in the event that you cannot make these decisions yourself.
Even if you are relatively healthy, an unexpected emergency like a car accident or stroke could leave you unable to speak. Doctors often need to work with patients’ families to decide if they should move forward with a particular treatment or surgery that might have long-lasting implications for your quality of life. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk of developing a life-threatening disease or being intubated, for example, is much higher than usual – for all of us. Since loved ones are rarely allowed in the hospital at this time, having a declared healthcare agent that doctors can call could be life-altering.
Maryland residents can declare a health care agent in minutes, online. This is thanks to a partnership between local nonprofit The Horizon Foundation’s Speak(easy) Howard initiative and MyDirectives, an online portal that allows you to legally, and securely, name a healthcare agent. You simply create an account, name your agent, and sign electronically. MyDirectives makes your agent’s information available to healthcare facilities across the state, so doctors everywhere know who to call if they need to.
You can choose from two options when naming your agent. You can have your agent immediately make decisions about your care, or, you can choose to have your agent make decisions only after a doctor has determined you cannot communicate for yourself. In this case, once you regain consciousness and the ability to communicate, you regain full control.
Naming a healthcare agent during a pandemic is about maintaining control during a time of uncertainty. It’s also about doing the right thing for those you love. Many families have sad stories about medical emergencies that left them divided and stressed during a loved one’s moment of crisis. Some families never recover from those rifts. Naming a healthcare agent now gives your family peace of mind. If the need arises, they’ll know exactly who you want to make decisions for you, and, hopefully, you have made your preferences clear to that person. That way, your family is not left to make impossible decisions – you’ve already made them. The Horizon Foundation’s Speak(easy) Howard initiative aims to make it easier for Howard County residents to name a healthcare agent.
In the event you or a loved one must visit a hospital, doctor’s office or other healthcare facility during the COVID-19 pandemic, Speak(easy) Howard has partnered with local experts and community leaders to create a resource for those who require medical attention during this stressful time. The guide includes six tips on how to manage and navigate a hospital experience.