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How To: Ensure Family Access to the Plan of Care

January 19th, 2011 | Posted in Quality Care
As a healthcare advocate, you are tasked as an intermediary between the patient and the entire, often winding, course of care. As a key go-between partner, you often stand as the patient’s voice and the family’s representative. In times of distress, your know-how can help bridge the gap between the patient and the care team. And your expertise will have the patient’s family precisely where they want to be – that is, making decisions at the patient’s side.
The demanding task of creating a seamless channel between a patient (and a patient’s wishes) and the providing team requires some diligent planning. In the how-to guide below, healthcare advocate Jamie Verdi, founder of the Michigan Patient Advocacy Liaison (MI-PAL), shares a five-step guide to securing open access to healthcare decisions and treatment plans.
Make a plan. Bringing family members together to discuss the course of treatment can be a twofold process, according to Verdi. An initial plan – with the patient included – will help define goals and circumvent any misunderstandings about that plan of care going forward. A second meeting may be necessary if the patient suffers an incapacitating turn of events. Should that be the case, the second meeting will serve to reiterate the course of treatment and redefine any goals or obstacles that may have arisen.
Put it in writing. In most cases, family members are allowed to access a patient’s medical records. But in order to do so, there must be proof of the patient’s wishes. “Have the patient put in writing the family members that are allowed access to medical records,” advises Verdi. Doing so will clear any hurdles ahead of time.
Assign specific roles. Two important areas for a patient facing a potentially incapacitating situation are durable powers of attorney and the healthcare proxy. While these legal documents share some similarities, there are a few differences between them. In general, durable powers of attorney can cover a wider range of areas, from healthcare to property to financial decisions.
A healthcare proxy, on the other hand, is a document appointing a person as the patient’s go-to decision maker should the patient not be able to make medical decisions by himself. Both documents help “avoid any issues with access to medical records and providers once the patient is declared legally incapacitated,” says Verdi.
Verify roles with the treating team. “Make sure the patient, if competent, has consented to their doctors and providers of care, that certain family members are allowed to speak with them concerning their care,” says Verdi, “and, if need be, can make decisions for them once they become unable to do so.” Taking this step creates a fully transparent environment between yourself, family members and the treating team.
Educate surrounding staff. Relaying the critical information described above to physicians is a good first step. Delivering that information to supporting team members will help ensure a fully open avenue of communication. “Make sure all staff are aware of those family members that are authorized to receive medical information,” advises Verdi. This includes the nursing staff, administration and others involved in the patient’s journey.

Jamie Verdi is Michigan Patient Advocacy Liaison’s (MI-PAL’s) principal and an advisory board member of the Professional Patient Advocate Institute.