All the Knowledge At Your Disposal

“The rise of the internet, along with thousands of health-oriented websites, medical blogs, and even doctor-based television and radio programs, means that today’s patients have more opportunities than ever to take charge of their medical care.”

So begins Tara Parker-Pope’s article in the New York Times entitled You’re Sick. Now What? Knowledge Is Power. If what Parker-Pope is saying is true, then why aren’t more patients taking charge of the legal aspect of their illness? No, we don’t mean taking legal action against doctors, we mean taking the steps necessary to legally protect yourself while in the hospital or on the operating table.

If knowledge is power, that doesn’t just apply to knowledge of medicines and treatments, it means knowing your legal rights and protective measures as well, and using all the knowledge at your disposal. How do you insure you have the people you want making decisions for you if you are unable to make them yourself? How can you guarantee you won’t be kept in the hospital if you would rather be cared for at home? And what can you do to cut through the red tape and open channels of communication between your family and your medical personnel during a time of fear and stress?

The answer lies with two simple documents that your estate planning attorney can provide: An Advanced Health Care Directive (or Health Care Power of Attorney), and a HIPAA Authorization. These two documents together name the people you want as your agents to make decisions for you if you are incapacitated, and the people who are allowed to receive information about your healthcare condition. Without these two documents both your family and your medical caregivers may be left in the dark. These documents not only name your agents, but give them guidance and outline your wishes and preferences for care.

Parker-Pope says in her article that when it comes to internet information, “the goal is to find an M.D., not become one.” The same is true of lawyers and legal advice. You may find these two legal healthcare documents online, but there is no way to be sure that they are legally accurate and binding without the advice of a qualified attorney. Don’t take chances with your legal rights.