The COVID-19 pandemic presents new challenges that underscore how important it is to plan your medical care.

A message from Susan Edgman-Levitan, PA-C, and Christine Ritchie, MD, MSPH, Massachusetts General Hospital patient care and medical decision-making leaders.

COVID-19 has affected all of us. By taking steps to plan now, you can help your family, friends and medical providers.

Plan Ahead Now

Your Medications

  • Make a list of your medications (name, dose, etc.) and keep it on hand.
  • Plan for refills and contact your clinic, hospital or pharmacy now.
  • Call your pharmacy to see if your medicines can be sent to your home.

Your Money and Bills

  • Choose someone you trust who could help with your money and bills and who knows how to access your financial information and accounts, including passwords.
  • Beware of scams. Do not give strangers information about your money.
  • If you receive Social Security, your money will still come.
  • The Patient Advocate Foundation can help you find resources to help lessen the financial burden of medical treatment.

Your Pets

  • Choose someone who could take care of your pets. Make sure they have the name of your vet, instructions on caring for your pet and a list of your pet’s medical issues.
  • Give them a house key, in case they need to get in to care for your pet.
  • Ask your pet store to deliver pet food and supplies, or use an online ordering service.

Your Medical Care Plan: Action Steps

Share your wishes about the care you want. 

  • Think about what is most important in your life: family, pets, hobbies, etc. This can be a difficult exercise, but planning can make it easier for your family to make decisions.
  • Cake is a planning tool that can help you explore, document and share all your health, legal, funeral and legacy decisions.

Choose a medical decision maker or health care proxy. This person will speak for you if you cannot speak for yourself due to a medical condition. Choose a back-up health care proxy if you are able.

  • A health care proxy (medical decision maker) can make sure your doctors know about the care you want.
    • A good health care proxy (medical decision maker) is someone who:
      • you trust to follow your wishes.
      • can talk to your doctors in person or by phone.
      • knows your wishes about the care you want and do not want.
    • Let your health care proxy know you chose them for this role.

Think about and consider sharing what you want for your medical care.

Consider completing an “Advance Directive.”

  • This form allows you to name your decision maker and write down what you want for your medical care, in case you cannot speak for yourself due to a medical condition.
  • If you already have an advance directive, review it, update it and share it with your health care proxy (medical decision maker) and your medical provider.
  • Advance Directive forms are available at Prepare for Your Care.org.
    • It is OK if you can’t sign the form or get witnesses right now.
    • Reading the form can help you think through what kind of care you want.
    • Filling out the form can help your family and providers know more about the care you want and do not want.
    • You can scan/fax, email, or send a picture of the form from your cell phone to your health care proxy (medical decision maker), medical provider and others whom you trust.

Prepare for a Hospital Stay

A new hospital rule during the COVID-19 crisis is that patients cannot have family and friends visit. Therefore, it is helpful to prepare a list, in advance, of what you would need to bring from home. These suggestions will help you get started.

Papers and information

  • Phone numbers, key contacts to give your medical providers, including the person(s) you designate as your health care proxy/ies (see above)
  • List of your medications (or bring the pill bottles)
  • Advance directive or medical wishes information (see above)
  • Plans for your pets or bills

Equipment

  • Phone, tablet and/or computer (and their chargers!) can help you stay connected to family and friends
  • Glasses, hearing aids, dentures and other such items
  • Ear plugs, sleep masks, books and clothing

Susan Edgman-Levitan, PA-C, is executive director of the John D. Stoeckle Center for Primary Care Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate in Health Policy, Harvard Medical School. Ms. Edgman-Levitan also serves on several boards and national advisory committees, including the ABIM Foundation board, the AHRQ National Advisory Council, the Lucian Leape Institute and the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative. She is a senior fellow at IHI and an international expert on patient and family centered care for International Society for Quality in Health Care.

Christine Ritchie, MD, MSPH, is the Kenneth L. Minaker Chair in Geriatrics and director of Research for the Division of Palliative Care and Geriatric Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. She is a board-certified geriatrician and palliative care physician and conducts research on optimizing quality of life for those with chronic serious illness and multimorbidity. Dr. Ritchie is establishing a Center for Aging and Serious Illness Research within the MGH Mongan Institute. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she is supporting the Partners HealthCare System in their outreach to and care of older, high-risk or home-limited adults.