Could Your Loved Ones Find Your Advance Medical Directive in an Emergency?

Author: agriboff Date: 02/22/2017

Categories: Elder Law, Estate Planning and Administration

Advance medical directives are the documents that give you control over your medical care if you are unable to speak for yourself. They let you choose who will make health care decisions for you and they give guidance on the types of treatments you would or would not want.

Your doctors and your loved ones will be flying blind if they are unable to obtain these documents when you are in the hospital. In that case, you have no assurance that your wishes will be met. Unfortunately, ER doctors are almost never able to find their patients’ advance medical directives in the Electronic Health Records (EHRs) they rely on, according two new studies.

The first one found that 59% of patients had completed an advance directive, but that the ER was only able to find it in the EHR 13% of the time. That is not very encouraging. My first thought was that the patients never gave their documents to the hospitals. But that was not the case: the document was still missing 69% of the time when patients said they previously gave a copy to the hospital.

In the second study, fewer than one-third of ER doctors felt “very confident” or “extremely confident” that they could locate the patients’ advance directive in the EHR—when there was one to be found.

So, what does all of this mean for you? Simply put, you cannot count on the ability of doctors to obtain your advance directive from the hospital’s medical records, even if you provide it to them in advance.

That is a big deal because we want these documents to be a guide to your doctors and your loved ones in an emergency.  When I create estate planning documents with my clients, we discuss the importance of these documents being found in an emergency. I recommend using DocuBank to keep them safe and they can provide them to the hospital 24 hours/day 7 days/week. We supply our clients’ advance directives and HIPAA releases to DocuBank, and they store them electronically so that they can be accessed from anywhere at any time. Then, if need arises, you simply give your DocuBank emergency card to hospital staff when they ask you for your advance directive. They can print your directive immediately by visiting the DocuBank website or get it by fax. You can also call DocuBank yourself and ask them to fax the directive to the hospital.

Last month, my clients were traveling on vacation when they were in a very serious car accident. When they arrived at the hospital, neither was alert or able to communicate with the hospital staff.  They had their DocuBank cards in their wallets, and the hospital was able to obtain their advance medical directives and HIPAA releases within minutes of their arrival. The clients’ backup agents were contacted to make medical decisions for my clients until they were able to make them again.*

If you would like to attend a free workshop on advance directives, make changes to yours, or get more information on DocuBank you can reach me at 301-251-1180 x 310 or

*True story – Some facts have been changed to maintain attorney-client confidentiality.