The Need for a Medical Power of Attorney Prior to Hospital Care

A Medical Power of Attorney basically allows you to choose someone you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. Why is this instrument necessary prior to hospital care? The numbers on medical negligence make the need clear.

The Numbers on Medical Error

Many medical errors, or simply bad outcomes, are unavoidable. Not every bad result stems from medical negligence. The numbers below relate only to preventable medical error and do not factor in unavoidable error. This actually suggests an even greater need for patient diligence.

The estimates vary tremendously on preventable medical error. The numbers below represent only a smattering of the estimates on various medical errors in hospitals. It is important to do your own research. In particular, it is important to look into the facility and the providers where you will be treated.

The landmark study from the Institute of Medicine‘s 1999 report “To Err is Human” put the number of deaths by preventable medical error at 98,000 per year. The numbers apparently have gotten much worse since with estimates now as high as 187,000 per year.

Studies suggest that 1 in 3 hospital patients will be harmed by preventable medical error. Infections in hospitals have become so rampant that medical providers will argue that they are an inherent and unavoidable risk of hospitalization.

Finally, it is estimated by the Institute of Medicine, that patients in hospitals suffer an average of one medication error per day. This equates to injury by medication error to 1.5 million Americans each year. Worse yet, it is estimated that these errors result in 7000 deaths per year.

These numbers go on and on. So what‘s the point? The point is that you need to plan for the unfortunate event that you become a victim of medical negligence.

Purpose of Medical Power of Attorney

As stated in the opening paragraph, the purpose of the medical power of attorney is to allow someone you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event that you cannot make them yourself. In light of the numbers above, as much as we would like to believe otherwise, this is a definite possibility even for routine procedures.

The medical power of attorney is effective upon signing. Its duration can be set in advance or made indefinite. In the case that it is indefinite, it would lapse whenever you become competent again to make your own decisions.

The power of attorney is not to put someone in charge of your medical care over and above your own decision making. It is to give the person power to make those decisions if you cannot. As such, the person so designated cannot make decisions that are against your wishes. If you are able to make the decisions, you make the decisions.

This means that if you do not suffer an incapacitating event, then the power of attorney will effectively be nullified, since the power of attorney kicks in only if you are incompetent.

Finally, you have the power to limit the authority under the power of attorney by any means you see fit. These limitations would be spelled out in the power of attorney itself.

Routine v. Extraordinary Procedures

Most patients contemplate a medical power of attorney only in the case of extraordinary surgeries, where incapacitation is a predicable and unavoidable risk of the procedure. For instance, most patients consider the power of attorney prior to serious and risky surgeries.

However, in light of the numbers on medical error and the complications that come with those errors, it is highly advisable to create a medical power of attorney before any hospital stay. Likewise, it is advisable to do the same for any out-patient invasive procedure.

Because some medical care is unexpected and unpredictable; such as trips to the emergency room (where a high number of errors occur), it is advisable to have the medical power of attorney in place at all times. After all, for instance, if you are seriously injured in a car accident, it is highly unlikely that you will consider or have the opportunity to enter the medical power of attorney prior to treatment.

Educate Yourself on Patient Safety

There are many steps that you may take to protect yourself in medical care. This is only one. Educate yourself on all issues related to patient safety. It quite literally can mean the difference between life and death.


Related Readings
Hospital Survival: The Numbers
Simple Surgical Checklist Can Save Patient Lives!
Hospital Survival: Essential Strategies
The Myth of the Frivolous Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

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