Advance health care directives: There’s an app for that

The American Bar Association has promoted health care advance planning for decades, and a new smartphone app developed by the ABA Commission on Law and Aging allows users to store and distribute health care advance directives, such as a living will or health care proxy.

The My Health Care Wishes app attempts to ensure that advance directives are easily accessible when they are actually needed. The app gives individuals and their family members the ability to store their own and each other’s directives, key health information and health care contacts on their Apple or Android smartphones. It also lets them send advance directive documents directly to health care providers by email or Bluetooth connectivity.

“We all hope we will never need to use an advance directive, but when it is needed, making it accessible is key to fulfilling a loved one’s wishes,” ABA President James R. Silkenat said.

Advance directives such as a health care power of attorney or living will legally authorize another person to make health care decisions for an individual, if the individual loses the ability to make decisions, and provide instructions on how decisions are to be made. Recognizing that people are reluctant to give up control of such personal documents to a third party, the ABA Commission on Law and Aging created My Health Care Wishes so that the individual’s smartphone itself becomes a registry.

Kerry Peck, a Chicago elder law attorney and member of the commission, sees many situations in which this app could have a big effect. “Often our clients’ families are scattered around the county, and when a medical crisis arises, they struggle to find needed information,” Peck said. “Having a parent’s advance directive and other medical information organized on your smartphone will make a huge difference.”

Suppose a Chicago resident named Sandra has an aging father living on the East Coast who enters a hospital with a serious condition that limits his decision-making abilities. The hospital notifies Sandra of the admission and asks whether her father had appointed a decision-maker or has an advance directive. Not only did Sandra’s father create an advance directive, Sandra has her father’s advance directive on her smartphone’s My Health Care Wishes app. She can immediately email the information to the hospital, along with other vital information stored on the app pertaining to her father’s medical condition, physicians and specialists, and health insurance. If Sandra’s father had been mentally capable when he entered the hospital, he too could have provided his advance directive to the hospital through his own smartphone.

The Pro version of the app, available for $3.99, allows for multiple profiles to be stored, while a Lite version, available for free, allows for just one user. More information and a link to download the app can be found at