Naming Your Primary Physician

In your health care directive, you can name a doctor to serve as your primary physician. This is the doctor who will:

  • oversee your medical care, and
  • make legally significant determinations regarding your mental capacity and the state of your health, if necessary.

You will probably want to name a primary physician if you already have an established relationship with a doctor you trust and with whom you have discussed—or will discuss—your health care wishes. (See "Talking to Your Doctor," below.) If you don't have an established relationship with a doctor, you can skip to the next part of the program.

What Your Primary Physician Does

Your primary physician may be required to make important decisions about your mental state and your overall health. For example, your health care documents will take effect if you ever lack the capacity to make health care decisions for yourself, and somebody may need to decide whether or not that time has come. The doctor you name will be responsible for making the determination. In addition, your health care documents may set out instructions for end-of-life care in very specific situations—for instance, you may leave one set of instructions to take effect if you are permanently unconscious and another to govern your care if you are terminally ill. Your primary physician will diagnose these conditions, putting your specific instructions into effect.

Choosing Your Primary Physician

If you have more than one doctor and you're not sure which one to pick, think about who would do the best job of supervising your overall care. This may be your family doctor or general practitioner, rather than a specialist. If you're really on the fence, you can talk to each doctor you're considering. You may find that one of them seems more comfortable taking on the responsibility of managing your care or you might just get a better sense of whom to pick.

Another possibility is to name one doctor as your first choice and another as an alternate.

Choosing an Alternate

Consider naming an alternate physician as well. Choose your alternate with the same care you use for your first pick. Keep in mind that this doctor may be responsible for making critical decisions about your care. If there isn't a second doctor you know and trust, skip this question.

Talking to Your Doctor

It's wise to talk to your doctor about your treatment preferences before you finalize your health care documents. Talking with your primary physician (and alternate, if any) is especially important because he or she will be in charge of other caregivers. Make sure your doctor understands your health care wishes and is willing to follow them. If you have questions or concerns about specific treatments, your doctor should be able to answer them. If you have other, more subjective concerns about a particular medical condition, such as the effects of certain treatments or how the condition is likely to affect you, discuss those, too.

Let your doctor know that you are completing a health care directive. If you will name an agent, be sure your doctor knows how to contact that person in an emergency. Better still, introduce your agent to your doctor if you have not already done so.