What to Consider When Choosing a Health Care Decision Maker

By Lisa Pahl, LCSW

People often choose their healthcare surrogate because of the relationship alone (spouse, child, etc).

Before making your decision, we encourage you to consider a few factors:

Openness in Communication: Who can you speak freely with? Being able to share openly increases the likelihood that your wishes will be carried through.

Proximity: While you can choose someone who does not live near you, it has it's drawbacks. It's harder to assess a situation and make informed decisions when the person is not physically present. 


Decision Making Abilities:  Healthcare decisions often need to be made rather quickly. This can be especially hard when emotions are high. Consider how they have responded to high pressure decisions in the past. 


Healthcare Literacy  Choosing a healthcare surrogate that is familiar with the medical system can increase the likelihood that they will serve as an advocate as needed. 

We recommend that you speak to the individual(s) you are considering for this role prior to designating them within your healthcare directive. Are they agreeable comfortable with being in this role? Are they a good fit when thinking about the four factors discussed here?

In addition to completing your advance directive, be sure to have conversations with your healthcare surrogate regarding your specific wishes at end of life. (We know a game that can help!)

Provide your decision maker, physician, and hospital a copy of your advance directive.

Discuss what you decided with your family members. This is especially important if you didn’t choose a family member as a your healthcare surrogate.

Don’t forget to review your advance directive every five years and when your health status or diagnosis changes.

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