Why You Should Have an Advance Directive

senior man and wife looking at a document

Planning for future medical care is a wise decision for adults of all ages. If you become too ill to let your healthcare values and goals be known, your advance directive can be a resource for your care team.

In the state of Pennsylvania, there are two types of advance directives: the living will and the durable healthcare power of attorney.

Living Will

A living will is a legal document stating your healthcare wishes. It will be referenced by your medical providers only when you are unable to make decisions for yourself. A living will can include what type of medical treatment you would or would not want to receive if you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious.

Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare

A durable power of attorney for healthcare is a legal document in which you name a person to make healthcare decisions for you if you cannot. A durable power of attorney will only go into effect after your physician has certified that you are incapacitated and unable to express your wishes.

Before any potential medical crisis, you should discuss healthcare wishes with your designated durable power of attorney. They should be familiar with your preferences so that they can make the treatment decisions that you would have made, should the need arise.

“Whether or not have a durable power of attorney, it is helpful to have conversations with your family so that everyone understands your wishes,” says Mary Beth Mitchell, senior executive director of Care Transformation Strategies at Doylestown Health.

Do You Need Both Documents? 

While having at least one advance directive measure in place is extremely helpful, having both a living will and a durable power of attorney is a better idea. There is a distinction between the two documents.

Attorney Steve Day Esq., director of risk and privacy officer for Doylestown Health, explains, "The living will is the document that details the care that you do or don’t want when you are at the end of your life and can’t articulate your wishes anymore. The durable power of attorney names someone to make decisions for you when you don’t have the ability, but not necessarily at the end of your life. Having both documents will cover both scenarios."

What Can Happen if You Don’t Have an Advance Directive?

Per Pennsylvania law, there is a hierarchy of family members who would then stand in as your healthcare decision maker if you do not have an advance directive. The law helps healthcare providers know whom to consult.

However, family members could have differing opinions about your medical care, causing disagreements. And if you do not have any family members or friends to serve as your decision maker, the hospital will need to go to court to assign a legal guardian to speak for you.

Steve Day remarks that, “If every person had a clearly written advance directive on record, it would avoid so much family strife and expenditure of resources on the part of healthcare providers and the court system.”

How to Get Started

“Complete your advance directive now, when you are not dealing with a medical situation,” advises Mary Beth Mitchell. “It’s is one less thing to worry about during your hospital stay.”

Doylestown Health provides a suggested advance directive form that can be found under Resources on our Advance Directive page HERE. This document has been created in a clear, simple format and allows you to express your healthcare wishes and name a healthcare agent, or durable power of attorney. Should you prefer a different format, there are many alternatives available online.

In Pennsylvania, advance directives only need to be witnessed, not notarized. However, Steve Day recommends notarization in case you become ill in another state that only recognizes notarized documents.

When you register at Doylestown Hospital, you will be asked if you have an advance directive on file. You may have submitted one to your physician, however, your doctor’s practice uses a different information system than the hospital.

To file your advance directive with Doylestown Health, email the form as a PDF (including your name and date of birth) to: myhealthdoylestown@dh.org OR fax to: 215-489-7235. Once your form is on file, it will carry through to subsequent stays.

It is also helpful to leave copies of your advance directive with your loved ones.

About Doylestown Health

Doylestown Health is a comprehensive healthcare system of inpatient, outpatient and wellness education services connected to meet the health needs of all members of the local and regional community. Doylestown Hospital, the flagship to Doylestown Health has 247 beds and a Medical Staff of more than 435 physicians in over 50 specialties. An independent nonprofit health system, Doylestown Health is dedicated to providing innovative, patient-centered care for all ages.

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