Previously, this blog discussed the Maryland Health Care Decisions Act, and how it enables residents to create advance directives. Today we are going to look specifically at who can be listed as an agent in an advance directive, and what their role is.
Careful consideration is needed when choosing a health care agent. Many times a person selects a family member such as a spouse or child or a trusted friend to serve in this important role. However, there are situations in which a person's family member is selected to act as a health care agent even if they have not been named as one in any written document. This is known as a surrogate.
A health care agent has three basic duties. First of all, the health care agent needs to make sure they have a complete and accurate understanding of all the medical facts. This includes ascertaining the patient's current medical condition as well as his or her future prognosis.
Next, the health care agent should make sure they are aware of all the possible medical options. This includes making sure the attending physician has explained both the benefits and the risks of any proposed medical procedures. It may be helpful to write down your questions, take notes and bring along a second person to help facilitate the conversation with the attending physician.
Finally, the health care agent has to make a decision about what the patient would have decided had they been able to do so. Health care agents can refer to the written advance directive or look back on conversations they have had with the patient. If any uncertainty remains, they can at least make a decision that is the most beneficial and the least burdensome to the patient.
This post is only meant to be for informational purposes. Nominating a health care agent is a big decision. A person doing so may want to seek advice, in order to ensure that the process is done correctly and that the end result is legally sound. In addition, people nominated as health care agents should make sure they fully understand their role, so they can make informed decisions.