Do you have a health care proxy? Most WNYers don't

Apr 17, 2017

Only four in ten adults in Western and Central New York have completed a health care proxy form, based on the results of an online survey of 2,000 Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield subscribers from a 39-county region.

A health care proxy is a document that designates a person to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make your own decisions due to illness or injury. In New York State, a two-page document covers these decisions.

Dr. Patricia Bomba, Excellus vice president and medical director of Geriatrics, says some fail to do this because they do not know how to choose a proxy. She says it should be someone who understands what matters most to you and who can talk to you about it.

Credit NYS Department of Health

"If someone can't talk to you about these issues now, they will not be able to stand in your shoes and represent you. They also have to be able to separate what their values and beliefs might be versus what yours are," she says. "They need to act in accordance to what matters most to you."

Those who do not make advanced care planning will have a surrogate making medical decisions for them, and that can lead to long-lasting problems, according to Bomba.

"I've seen conflict and I've seen families, after the death of a loved one, no longer speaking to each other because they couldn't get on the same page, which is mom's page or dad's page," she says.

Dr. Bomba says a health care proxy is not just for the elderly and terminally ill. An illness or accident could mean that an 18-year old is no longer able to make his or her own medical decisions.

According to the Excellus survey, women and those 45 and older were more likely to have completed health care proxy. 

Sunday was National Health Care Decisions Day, an event intended to raise awareness about the value of advance health care planning.