The Importance of Medical Power of Attorney in Patient Care


Patients and healthcare providers alike must understand how important power of attorney is in today’s medical care. This document could even define the treatments that are suitable in a crisis situation. With a free medical power of attorney form, patients have more control over their own care than ever.

Why Is Medical Power of Attorney Important?

A medical POA form dictates exactly which treatments a patient can receive, as well as who can make their healthcare choices. This responsibility has massive implications for care, including in matters of life and death. On the extreme end, this can even involve shutting off life support.

If a patient is unconscious or not able to give informed consent, a POA can guarantee effective, legal treatment. In most cases where medical POAs take hold, time is of the essence. However, healthcare staff are still able to carry out life-saving procedures without an agent present.

Legal Considerations for a Medical POA

Patients can only formally enter into this arrangement on either side when they’re 18 or over. It’s possible for parents to set up a POA for their child’s health needs, however. To ensure the best care in these situations, they should still take the child’s wishes into account.

A patient can amend or even revoke their POA at any time, though they should document this at every stage. On a similar note, research the laws for your state and see if you’ll need to notarize the form. Otherwise, your POA might not be usable when it’s most necessary.

Healthcare staff must be able to independently verify that a POA is valid and legally-binding at a glance. They should then inform the agent about the available options. In some cases, they may have to question the agent’s ability to provide informed consent on behalf of the patient.

Three Medical POA Examples

There are many situations where a medical power of attorney could help you, your loved one, or your patient. Here are just a few examples where a functioning POA makes a big difference:

1. Chronic Illness

If someone has a chronic illness that stops them from communicating their medical needs, their POA can help. The agent can use their authority to argue for care which fits the patient. A family member, for example, would know if they would like to stay at home or enter long-term care.

2. Travel Emergencies

It’s entirely possible that an emergency could develop while someone is on holiday and far away from their family. If doctors have a copy of their POA, they can then contact the agent. You could save a lot of time by carrying a second copy in the destination country’s native language.

3. Experimental Treatment

Hospitals sometimes ask agents if they can try an experimental treatment on their incapacitated patient. In this scenario, it’s important that they have the agent’s approval, as there may be side effects. The patient’s attorney-in-fact will use their preferences to decide if treatment is suitable.

Appointing an Agent

The patient, also known as a principal, must be careful with whom they pick as their agent. This has to be someone they know will fight for their medical rights and respect their wishes. Patient preferences have to take priority; even if this means shutting off their life support.

People generally choose close family members to act as their agent, though they might want to ask a friend instead. This might help if a spouse would struggle to make serious decisions about their partner’s life. It’s also best to nominate someone who is easily reachable on short notice.

Medical staff have a duty to verify the agent’s identity, usually with their government ID. If you’re completing this type of POA, it’s also useful to give a copy to your healthcare provider. This can then go in your electronic health records, where your agent’s name is easily accessible.

Maintaining Bodily Autonomy

Every adult has a right to control their own body, including which treatments they receive. This is why the medical world prioritizes informed consent — though life-saving treatment is typically an exception. Power of attorney doesn’t mean giving away control. Instead, these documents make sure you keep it even while unconscious.

These documents empower patients, and even outline the specifics of what healthcare staff can and can’t do. For example, if you don’t want certain risky treatments, veto them in your power of attorney. Beyond emergency life-saving care, the doctors will always listen to what you want; so long as your form reflects this.

Conclusion: Confidently Navigating Medical Emergencies

Power of attorney gives patients peace of mind about their medical autonomy in a wide range of situations. However, they’ll need a detailed form which covers every requirement in their state. If you’re considering a POA, it can also help to talk to your healthcare provider before making any major decisions.