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Real Men Wear Gowns: Advanced health care directives

It's important to have a health care directive and a health care agent.

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Aging is pretty much the only certainty in life.

As we get older, it's important to be pro-active about what our health care ideals are.

"These decisions are personal and often people have strong feelings about them, so it's important to make sure the ideas about your health care are made known," Dr. Matt Mundy of Park Nicollet said.

Dr. Mundy has helped lead a HealthPartners initiative to have primary care physicians motivate patients to plan for future medical needs.

"To figure out what types of treatments are available, deciding for yourself which of those treatments you would or would not want for yourself if you were to be severely ill or injured," Dr. Mundy explained. 

Once a decision on how you want to be looked after is made, it's equally important to identify someone who is going to be able to make those decisions for you if you become ill or seriously injured. That person is known as your health care agent. 

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"They should be able to be someone you could trust to carry out your wishes and really respect the things you chose even if they may be different from what they chose," Dr. Mundy said. 

All this is put in what's called an Advanced Health Care Directive.

"In order for it to be a legal document, it has to have your name, the name of the decision maker, and it has to be signed by a notary," Dr. Mundy said.

Forms can be found online. The only legal requirement is that you are 18 or older to fill one out. Dr. Mundy says having an advanced directive helps take the uncertainty out of caring for loved ones as their health deteriorates.

"When they have had these conversations, their families have a lot more security in their ability to make decisions and to know what they are doing is right for the patient," he added.

It's important to know that an Advanced Health Care Directive is not a static document. It can be changed at any time; during a time of illness, during a time of hospitalization or just to reflect what you believe is important.  

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