May 2, 2008
Advance directive and health care proxy decisions

In conjunction with the inaugural National Healthcare Decisions Day, the MGH's Patient Care Services Ethics in Clinical Practice (EICP) and Patient Education Committees hosted a table in the Main Corridor April 16 to provide information about advance directives and health care proxies. The MGH joined 72 national and more than 300 state and local organizations in sponsoring National Healthcare Decisions Day, with the goal of encouraging patients to express their wishes regarding their health care and for providers and facilities to respect those decisions.

A health care proxy is a simple legal document that allows individuals to designate an "agent" to make decisions about their health care only when they are unable to do so themselves, due to unconsciousness, coma or other medical condition. The agent's decision has the same authority as the patient's and is honored over the wishes of others. Therefore, it is important for individuals to talk to their agents about what decisions they would like made in these circumstances.

"We hope that people will have thoughtful conversations about their health care decisions with their families or other possible caretakers," says Cynthia Lasala, MS, RN, clinical nurse specialist in Phillips House 20 and coach of the EICP committee. "Creating advance directives may help spare families and health care providers the struggle of making difficult health care decisions for their loved ones or patients."

MGH Patient Care Services has sponsored an advance directive information table for the past six years. This year, more than 500 information packets were distributed to patients, visitors and staff and contained information on advance care planning, a list of online resources and two Massachusetts health care proxy forms.

For more information about advance care planning efforts at the MGH, contact LaSala at clasala@partners.org, Taryn Pittman, MSN, RN-BC, at tpittman@partners.org; or Sharon Brackett, RN, BS, CCRN, at sbrackett@partners.org. For more information about National Healthcare Decisions Day, visit www.nhdd.org.

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