An important part of estate planning is designating a health care proxy and developing an advance directive for your care. It is important to give your primary care physician and health care proxy copies of these documents. In addition to giving them copies, you should request they are part of your electronic health records. Currently, the national standard for electronic records is that they need to have the capacity to show whether or not you have an advance directive somewhere. To learn about a real-life example of the importance of your advance care planning, read this NYT article.
By Daniela Lamas, M.d. | New York Times
This is not how it was supposed to happen.
I was working overnight when my pager sounded, alerting me to an admission to the intensive care unit. I logged on to the computer and clicked on the patient’s chart, scanning the notes that tracked his decline. First there was a cancer diagnosis, too far gone for cure, then surgery, recurrence, surgery, and finally, a discharge home. The elderly man had been found there earlier that evening, pale, feverish and too confused to communicate.
Now he was in the emergency department, his breaths ragged. “There’s no family around. We’re probably going to have to intubate,” the emergency room doctor told me when I called him to learn more about the patient. I sighed, wondering what this man would have wanted, if only he could tell us.
I was surprised when, a few seconds after I hung up the phone, one of the doctors in training tapped me on the shoulder and pointed urgently at the computer screen. There was something important there at the very end of an otherwise unremarkable progress note from the patient’s outpatient oncologist. Just a few weeks before, doctor and patient had talked about how they were at the end of the road, without further therapies to slow the growth of the cancer. Facing a prognosis on the order of months, the elderly man had requested that when things got worse, there would be no breathing tubes or chest compressions. Only comfort and quiet.
But now he was unable to speak for himself. Too busy with X-rays and ultrasounds and medications, the emergency team hadn’t seen the note. I sent a page off to the attending taking care of the patient to alert him to the patient’s wishes, and my resident gathered his papers to run down to the emergency room.
This patient had done everything we could have asked. He’d been brave enough to talk with his doctors about his cancer and acknowledge that time was short. He had designated a health care proxy. But there he was, surrounded by strangers, the intubation he never would have wanted looming and the record of that conversation buried in his electronic record.
Something had gone wrong. And though it would be easy to blame the oncologist for not sending the patient home with a legally binding directive documenting his end-of-life wishes, or the emergency doctors for not searching harder in the chart, it’s not that simple. As it usually is with a surgery performed on the wrong side of the patient’s body or a medication that’s prescribed despite a known allergy, the problem here is not about individuals, but instead about a system that doesn’t sufficiently protect patients from getting care they do not want. [read entire article]