April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day , and it serves a good reminder to designate someone to speak for you if you are unable to make your own medical decisions.

Through its Choices and Champions program, Novant Health encourages its patients to choose a health care “champion,” or someone you know will stand in your corner when you can’t speak up for yourself.

“We recommend that every healthy adult pick a health care champion,” said Deb Love, senior director of bioethics, spiritual care and healing arts at Novant Health. “It’s never too early to decide who you would trust to speak for you if you couldn’t. The reality is that any of us could have an unexpected accident or illness or need to have surgery requiring anesthesia.  We all need to be prepared.”

Have the conversation

If you haven’t already, take the time to strike up a conversation with family members, your spouse, friends or partner.  “They need to understand what’s important to you – what living well means to you,” Love said.  “Sometimes a movie or book can be a good conversation starter.  We encourage you to keep the conversation focused on living your best possible life throughout your whole life.” 

Love also recommends playing the GoWish game with your loved ones to help you think through what matters most to you.

“It’s important for the person you choose to know what’s important to you and be committed to honoring your wishes, even if those are not what they would want for themselves,” Love added.

Choose your champion

Health care decisions are not always easy to make, but your champion should be someone who will respect your beliefs and values. Ideally, a champion should be someone who can:

  • Speak knowledgably about your health condition, symptoms and medical history.
  • Pay attention to all important facts and details when making decisions, and be available to help follow up with treatment plans.
  • Understand his or her duties, and be seriously committed to fulfilling them.
  • Work well with others who may be involved in your life and care.
  • Be trusted to do his or her best to make sure your wishes are known and honored.
  • Be willing to stand up for your rights.
  • Be available when needed.

Formalize your decision

Once you’ve identified your champion, it’s important to continue the process and designate this person as your official health care agent with an advance directive known as a health care power of attorney. With this, you can ensure that your champion has the legal authority to speak for you.

Without a health care power of attorney form, any medical decisions would be made by an individual determined for you by state law. By designating your champion as your health care agent, you decide who makes decisions for you, not the state.

Novant Health provides the forms you’ll need here .

“You can bring your health care power of attorney form to any of our medical centers and we’ll get it notarized and signed for you at no cost,” Love said. “We can make sure your document gets uploaded into your medical record.  You will want all of your health care providers to have a copy.  Also, give one copy to your health care agent, and keep the original document where it will be easy to obtain if needed in an emergency.”

Be proactive

Outlining your medical choices now ensures your wishes are honored and takes the burden off of loved ones who may be called upon to speak for you.

“It really is a gift to your family and loved ones to do this,” Love said. “In an emergency situation, they’re already dealing with a lot of stress. This is one burden you can take off of them.”

To schedule a free consultation with a Novant Health Choices and Champions navigator or to take the step in designating your champion as your health care agent, please call 1-844-677-5134. Click here to learn more.