An advance directive describes, in writing, your choices about the treatments you want or do not want or about how health care decisions should be made for you if you become incapacitated and cannot express your wishes. Anyone who is of sound mind and age 18 or older may complete these forms. Wisconsin laws created two forms of advance directives for health care – the living will and the power of attorney for health care. A living will (Declaration to Physicians) allows you to select the kind of life-sustaining care you would want if injury or illness leaves you in a terminal condition (dying) or a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery. With a health care power of attorney, you appoint someone to be your “agent” to make all health care decisions – not just those involving life support – for you if you lose the ability to make decisions for yourself.
In addition, you can also appoint someone to handle your financial matters using a Power of Attorney for Finances and Property.
Your Right to Direct Your Future Health Care Needs: Who Will Make Your Medical Decisions When You Can't (PDF, 104 KB), is a publication from the Department that provides additional information and resources regarding advance directives.
Consumer's Tool Kit for Health Care Advance Planning (PDF, 250 KB; exit DHS), from the American Bar Association, includes question and answer forms to help you and your family think and talk about end-of-life health care issues.
Access to and Privacy of Health Information
Federal and state laws govern your right to get, read and, in some cases, change the information in your medical records. They also protect the privacy of your medical records and other types of health information. These laws have been interpreted in different ways by different health care providers, but some general information on your rights and protections under these laws is available from the following sources.
Health Information Privacy for Consumers, from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), includes information on how the privacy rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) may allow you to access your medical records while at the same time protect the privacy of your health information.
Wisconsin Consumer's Guide to Health Information Privacy: A guide to health information privacy that takes into account HIPAA and laws specific to Wisconsin.
HIPAA - Frequently Asked Questions, also from HHS, provides answers to a wide variety of questions about access to and privacy of medical records and information covered by HIPAA. Some of the general topics covered include:
- Release of information to family and friends
- Information available from hospital directories
- Rights of personal representatives of patients
- Rights to access my medical records
- Release of information in a severe disaster
- Release of information in a national or public health emergency
Other Health Care Law
Health Care: Answering Your Legal Questions, published by the State Bar of Wisconsin.