Recently, a friend’s 19-year-old daughter was rushed to the emergency department of a hospital by her college.  My friend called the hospital as she got into her car to drive the several hours to be with her but was only able to obtain minimal information regarding her daughter.  Fortunately, her daughter got well quickly and was released from the hospital the next day, but my friend learned the importance of having a Health Care Proxy.

The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) was established to protect a patient’s personal and health information.  If health organizations do not adhere to HIPAA, they can face heavy fines.  This has led many hospitals to create strict protocols regarding releasing any information about patients.  If my friend’s daughter’s condition had gotten progressively worse, without a health care proxy in place, it would have been more difficult for her to be included in decisions regarding her care.

A health care proxy is a legal document which allows you to appoint someone you trust to make health care decisions for you if you lose the ability to make decisions yourself.

Consider that your elderly parent who is already dealing with a host of underlying medical conditions, requires hospitalization.  Even with a health care proxy, depending on hospital policy and HIPAA protocols, medical staff may or may not discuss their treatment or condition with you.  However, if a patient becomes unable to make decisions on their own, the health care proxy will come into effect.


  • Do you have a health care proxy?  If you do have a signed health care proxy, now would be a good time to review it.  Speak with your designees and go over your wishes for your health care should you become sick.
  • What if you don’t have a health care proxy?  Any member of your household over age 18 should have a signed health care proxy.  There are standard health care proxies available to download by state.  New York’s form is available here.  We recommend that if you have any question as to how to complete the form, you should contact an estate attorney.  An estate attorney can also help you prepare powers of attorney to designate someone to handle your financial affairs if you are unable to do that.
  • Ensure your designee has copies of your signed health care proxy. This is a big responsibility, and you should take the time to discuss your wishes with your designee and provide them with a copy for their files.
  • Maintain a digital copy in a secure online vault.  When an emergency happens, you don’t want to be scrambling to find legal papers, which may be locked away at home or in a bank’s safe deposit box.  Easy access, especially in an emergency, can help your loved ones navigate a difficult situation a bit easier.
  • Make a list of your medications.  First responders advise having a typed list of all your medications, strengths and dosages available to provide in case of an emergency.  This list should include over-the-counter medications and nutritional supplements, such as vitamins.
  • Make a list of underlying medical conditions.  It can help medical providers to know if a patient is a diabetic, has high blood pressure, has cancer, allergies to medications, etc.  Your list of medications will give medical providers quick insight into what conditions you may be under treatment for and any relevant information you make easily accessible can be a help.

We all hope that we will never need these documents, but we’d rather be prepared than find ourselves in a situation where we need them and don’t have them. Ensuring that our legal documents are in order can help us provide the best care possible for our loved ones.  If you have any questions, please contact us.