Health Care Proxy Selections Often Unexpected, Study Finds

The selection of a designated health care “proxy” often is unexpected, according to a study published in the August issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, the Detroit Free Press reports. A proxy, or “durable power of attorney for health care,” makes health care decisions for patients in the event that they become incapacitated. For the study, Michael Lipkin, an assistant professor in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, and colleagues interviewed 298 adults ages 19 to 96 who received outpatient treatment at the General Eye Clinic at the University of Chicago. Researchers asked participants who their physicians should inform in the event of an emergency. In addition, researchers asked participants who they would select to make health care decisions on their behalf in the event that they could not make the decisions themselves. According to the study:

  • 28% of participants selected someone other than their emergency contacts;
  • One-third of married participants did not select their spouses;
  • Participants selected their daughters three times more often than their sons and their sisters two times more often than their brothers; and
  • About one-fourth of participants said that physicians had never previously asked them to select a proxy.

Lipkin said that, regardless of whom they select, “every competent adult should name someone as their agent for health care.” He added, “You hope you never need it, and it’s likely that only 5% of the population is going to get into the kind of crazy trouble that would require it, but that’s exactly the point — it’s for the unexpected” (Mozes, Detroit Free Press, 8/22).


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