You have taken the steps to create an advance health care directive. You’ve had a conversation with your agent about when to locate the document and what your wishes are. Now you’re probably wondering what actually happens if my agent needs to make medical decisions for me? This is a very practical question, and it may not be addressed as often as it should. When this document is needed it is always in an emergency situation, it means you are incapacitated and unable to communicate and your agent needs to step up and make decisions for you.

In this example, you are your mom’s health care agent. Now mom has been very open with you about your role, you’ve had conversations with your mom and know what her wishes are and you have a digital copy of her directive saved to your phone. You receive a call notifying you that your mom has suffered a stroke, she’s alive but in the hospital and unable to communicate. While this situation is stressful and chaotic you know you are equipped to make decisions.

When you go to the hospital where mom is located, bring mom’s health care directive with you, even if they should have it on file. Presenting that document will grant you immediate access instead of having to wait for mom’s medical record to be pulled up. Second, even if you are named as mom’s agent by yourself it is always helpful to bring along an additional set of ears. There will be a lot of information coming at you very quickly in this type of situation, and sometimes decisions need to be made fast.

Finally, most health care directives come with a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) Release. This document allows your agent to access your historical medical records. Having access to your mom’s history will help you make better-informed decisions.