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Tips for designating an effective patient advocate

Although nobody hopes to be faced with life-threatening medical issues, it's a situation anybody could be forced to deal with at a moment's notice. Through this experience, people hope that they can make the most reasonable and thoughtful decisions. In some cases, people may not be able to make these decisions on their own behalf, particularly at the end of life.

In order to remove some of the uncertainty associated with major medical events, people can consider granting powers of attorney to a patient advocate. This person will be given the authority to make informed medical decisions on behalf of another person who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to make sound judgments.

One of the benefits of including powers of attorney provisions in an estate plan is that people can make critically important decisions while they are still of sound mind. Given the sensitivity and critical nature of personal medical decisions, appointing a patient advocate isn't something that should be taken lightly.

According to the National Patient Safety Foundation, an advocate could be a family member or close friend. The most important thing, however, is that the advocate is a person who can be trusted and will be assertive enough at the right moments. Above all, you need to find a person who will convey your wishes, even if other relatives or loved ones may suggest a different course of action.

This, of course, may require some work on the part of the person designating powers of attorney. First, it's best to communicate with the intended patient advocate to ensure that he or she is up to the task. Additionally, it may be helpful to discuss important aspects of treatment, such as the use of life support and feeding tubes. These wishes could be conveyed in writing.

Selecting a patient advocate doesn't have to be a complex, drawn-out process. However, it's important to know that you will have a trustworthy individual in your corner when or if the need arises.

Source: National Patient Safety Foundation, "Role of the Patient Advocate," accessed July 22, 2014

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