What is a Healthcare Surrogate?

Have you recently heard of the term ‘healthcare surrogate’, but don’t know to whom or what it’s referring to? Perhaps you’ve been asked to become a loved one’s healthcare surrogate or have even been suggested to designate a surrogate decision-maker yourself.

Either way, a healthcare surrogate is an extremely important decision, and one that we will all likely have to make at some stage in our lives. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know regarding this topic.

So, what is a healthcare surrogate?

To answer your most pressing question, a healthcare surrogate (also known as a surrogate decision-maker or healthcare proxy) is a person you authorize to make medical decisions for you when you are unable to make your own decisions. If you can understand and knowingly communicate health care decisions, you are in capacity and the health care surrogate is not in charge.

The role of a surrogate decision maker is to ensure your wishes are carried out in the event you are unable to communicate. By electing a trusted loved one for this role, you are confirming your wishes will be known in advance and acted upon if a certain scenario were to arise, in the future, and you were incapacitated. If the surrogate does not know what decision the patient would have made, they are required to act in the best interest of the patient.

Who can be a healthcare surrogate?

Legally speaking, any adult over the age of 18 can be nominated as a healthcare surrogate. You can also have more than one healthcare surrogate, so many consider nominating 2 or 3 of their most trusted loved ones to fulfill this role. This is to ensure their needs are truly taken care of, particularly in the scenario that an appointed person is unavailable or unwilling to assist.

What are the duties of a healthcare surrogate?

Healthcare surrogate responsibilities include:

  • Thoroughly consulting with physicians and other health care providers regarding the patient’s medical treatment or end-of-life procedures
  • Providing informed consent on the patient’s behalf in matters of medical intervention
  • Making health care decisions that the patient has made known to be their preference and desire. If they have not made these wishes clear, the surrogate would then make decisions according to what they believe the patient would have wanted if they were able to express their wishes
  • Applying on the patient’s behalf for public benefits to help pay the cost of health care
  • Managing the patient’s admittance to or transfer from health care facilities, including hospitalization, nursing home treatment, and home health care
  • Approving release of medical records
  • Communicating with the patient’s loved ones or family members about their medical treatment

It is important to mention that the role and responsibilities of a medical surrogate, as well as the types of decisions the surrogate can make, may vary from state to state, depending on local laws.

Advice for choosing a healthcare surrogate

Before officially nominating someone (or multiple people) as your healthcare surrogate, you should consider the following:

Physical and mental soundness

You want a healthcare surrogate who is fit to handle your medical needs – both physically and mentally. Preferably, they won’t have their own health issues or advanced age to deal with. Additionally, they should be able to deal with adversity reasonably and objectively.

Location

Although a healthcare proxy doesn’t have to be within your locality, it is preferential. This allows them to be by your bedside if an emergency were to strike and you require their assistance. Alternatively, ensure any long-distance nominees are willing to drop everything to be there for you, if and when needed.

Trustworthiness

You should only designate someone as your surrogate decision maker if you believe they are reliable and trustworthy. Will they follow your wishes, or will they be unable to set aside their own beliefs and opinions if they differ from yours? Being a healthcare surrogate isn’t a position to be taken lightly, so you should have utmost faith in this person to be able to do the right thing for you.

Determination

This role also requires a loved one with the tenacity and persistence to follow through with decision-making and ensure health care professionals are doing what you require. They should be unwavering in their support for you – even when it requires them to be the squeaky wheel with medical providers.

Willingness

Your nominated healthcare surrogate should be ready, willing, and reasonably available to help you – even if a crisis were to occur today. Remember, it’s essential that your nominee isn’t just aware of the fact that you would like them to operate in this role for you, but also that they are informed of your decisions. Communication is key here, so don’t let these things remain unspoken.

Finally, keep in mind that you can create a new health care surrogate designation with ease if your (or their) wishes or circumstances change. Nothing is set in stone; however it is still a decision that shouldn’t be made lightly.

How to designate a healthcare surrogate

To nominate your surrogate decision-maker, you’ll need to complete a Designation of Health Care Surrogate form (here is an example). Some states refer to it as a power of attorney for health care. The designation will be effective until revoked or if you stipulate a termination date.

These forms are available for free online; however, to ensure it meets the laws of your state, you should obtain one from a local law entity. In most cases, this form is easy to understand and can be filled-in from the comfort of your own home.


If you have a question about medical surrogates or other healthcare topics, please contact us!

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