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Half of upstate New Yorkers don't have a health care proxy

Nearly nine of 10 upstate New York adults are aware of the term, “health care proxy,” – but only about four out of 10 have completed a health care proxy form, according to a new survey commissioned by Univera Healthcare.

“That’s disappointing, because so many people have had the experience of making gut-wrenching health care decisions for loved ones who were unable to communicate,” said Dr. Patricia Bomba, Univera Healthcare vice president and medical director of geriatrics.

The polling firm One Research conducted the online survey of 2,000 participants. A county-level quota sampling method was used to ensure that it would be a representative sample of the region’s U.S. Census Bureau demographic profile.

Among survey respondents who had heard the term health care proxy, 89 percent know that it is a way to legally designate someone as your health care agent to represent you during a medical crisis if you can’t speak for yourself.

Among those surveyed who had not completed a health care proxy, more than half also had not shared their wishes with family and others.

About a third of survey respondents see the need to fill out a healthy care proxy, but have not successfully completed a form. “Being aware, and understanding the value, of a health care proxy is important,” Bomba said in a news release, “but unless you take the time to fill out the form, your wishes may not be carried out.”

Age was a factor when it came to knowledge of the health care proxy term: 98 percent of respondents age 65 and older reported knowing the term, compared to 61 percent of survey respondents in the 18- to 24-year-old age group.

Bomba said a health care proxy can make those decisions easier, and help people avoid being faced with a situation like the Terri Schiavo case. In 2005, the Florida woman was at the center of a legal battle over the right to die. She was in an irreversible, persistent vegetative state as a result of a cardiac arrest. Members of her family had differing views on what she would have wanted with regard to life-sustaining medical interventions. The various factions waged a highly publicized and prolonged series of legal challenges over who had the right to make health care decisions on Schiavo’s behalf.

“When you select a health care agent, ideally it’s a person who knows your values, beliefs and goals for medical care,” Bomba said. “Your health care agent should be able to step into your shoes and choose interventions based on what matters most to you, and not what they would want for themselves.”

Sharing your values, beliefs and goals for medical interventions and completing a health care proxy form are crucial to the advance care planning process. Filling out a health care proxy form legally documents your care wishes, and sharing your wishes ensures that your health care agent and other family members are aware of the proxy and its details.

A free step-by-step booklet and discussion guide on advance care planning, including the health care proxy form, are available for download at compassionandsupport.org. Individuals and families also may turn to theconversationproject.org for information about to talk with loved ones about end-of-life planning.

“Having a health care proxy gives all parties involved in a medical crisis the peace of mind that comes from knowing the patient’s wishes,” Bomba said. “Everyone who is 18 years old and older should complete a health care proxy form and keep copies on file with their physicians, lawyers and loved ones.”

Other findings from the survey include:

– Health care proxy awareness and knowledge were significantly higher among women than men.

– Significantly more men than women feel that they have no need to fill out a health care proxy form.

– Respondents currently taking a prescription medication for a chronic condition had higher health care proxy awareness, knowledge and completion, compared with those not taking a prescription.

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