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December 01, 2014

2014 Review: Your Health Care Wishes Just a Finger Tap Away

(Note: The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol. 36, Issue 2.)

Your Health Care Wishes Just a Finger Tap Away

With some very creative people, the Commission has created version 1 of a smartphone app called My Health Care Wishes to give individuals and their family members the ability to store their own and each other’s health care advance directives, key health information, and health care contacts on their Apple or Android smartphones, and to send advance directive documents directly to health care providers by email or Bluetooth.

You can learn more about the app and download it by going to

We think the app is a great product, but to reach its potential it needs several new capabilities that I’ll describe below.

That’s why we are fundraising.

The Commission has promoted health care advance planning and the use of advance directives for decades. Advance directives are documents such as a health care power of attorney or living will that can provide instructions for how decisions are to be made and also legally authorize another person to make health care decision for the individual, if the individual loses the ability to make decisions. While all adults should have an advance directive, one universal problem they still face if they have one is ensuring that their advance directive is available and in the medical record at the time and place it actually becomes needed.

Advance directive registries have attempted to solve that problem. Many private enterprises as well as state governments have tried to develop successful electronic registries over the last 25 years. These registries offer to keep a copy of the advance directive and provide a digital copy of it quickly to any authorized health care providers on their request. These systems are generally managed via cloud-based computing. In reality, none have ever attracted a truly critical mass of participants. We concluded that one of the reasons for this is that people are reluctant to give up control of such personal documents to a third party and an electronic environment you do not control.

The My Health Care Wishes app essentially allows you to create your own personal registry with content and access controlled by you. The app can store and share the directives of multiple loved ones. While just about any smartphone can store a document, there is little available to make storage, sharing, and revising convenient, focused on the rights documents and information, organized, and truly portable electronically.

Here’s what we need to do to make this app reach its potential:

  1. The app is useful now only for people who have already completed a health care advance directive. We have created a multi-state health care power of attorney form and want to digitize it on the app so it can be completed and electronically signed.
  2. There are currently no desktop versions or tablet versions of the app. We want to create both desktop and laptop versions to make it as convenient as possible for people to enter and change data and complete the multi-state health care power of attorney.
  3. Another capability we can add when we create a desktop version is the ability for users to share their complete file with other family member in one step, and vice versa. The app does enable family members share mom's and dad’s and each other's health wishes information, but sharing the complete set of data from one smartphone to another has to be done in a few steps.

We believe that at its full capability, app sales will be able to cover the cost of maintaining it and providing ongoing customer service and even produce additional income that will go back into our public interest law work. We’ve set the price of the app at $3.99, and we think it can make a big difference in ensuring your health care wishes are known and honored.

Charlie Sabatino
Director, ABA Commission on Law and Aging