Investment Glossary – Healthcare Proxy

I’ve often wondered where the word “proxy” comes from. Does it have to do with proximity? Did it have something to do with processing? In fact, the origin of the word comes from somewhere in either the 14th or 15th century, with it being based on the word prokesye, an early form of the word “procuration,” or the process of procuring or obtaining something. When we typically thing of the word “procure,” we think of that act of obtaining – “Oh yes, I was absolutely able to procure some yams at the market this morning!” But that’s not really what procurement refers to in a legal sense – rather, it refers to the ability to persuade someone to do something.

Oh. That’s big.

In the case of a healthcare proxy, the document is a written order that allows a family member, friend, associate, or any other person to make healthcare decisions if you are unable to do so yourself. The healthcare proxy gives that person the ability to persuade someone to do something on your behalf. A healthcare proxy is one of the basic legal documents, along with a will, power of attorney, HIPAA release, and living will. It generally works in tandem with a HIPAA release, which allows someone to obtain your medical records, with the healthcare proxy then allowing them to make medical decisions on your behalf after actually being able to learn what’s ailing you with the use of the HIPAA release.

While some hospitals allow you to sign a healthcare proxy while you are in their care, it is typically a document that is best completed while you are in good health and nowhere near the need of any kind of urgent care. Your healthcare proxy designates someone who you trust implicitly to make decisions if you are unable to – and those are the decisions that are frequently made during life and death situations. Your healthcare proxy is not going to be called upon if you are having a mole removed on your back. They are going to be called upon if you have had a stroke and are unable to speak, or other situations in which you cannot make healthcare decisions for yourself.

For most people, their spouse is the natural choice for their primary healthcare proxy, though people will often designate a son or a daughter as a contingent healthcare proxy in the event that something happens to their spouse. Having a healthcare proxy in place at the proper age will help to ensure that if something unexpected happens to you, the proper people are empowered to manage your care in the best way possible. You may have very personal ideas about the type of care you want to receive, any religious beliefs that may affect your care, and even preferences amongst doctors and hospitals that you want to use. By specifying a healthcare proxy ahead of time, and communicating your wishes with that person, you give yourself the best chance of getting the care you want, instead of the care decided for you without your consent.