Commonwealth's New Advance Health Care Directive Registry

In the December 2011 issue of the Virginia Lawyer, the Virginia State Bar highlighted a new Advance Health Care Directive Registry service available to all Virginians. The new electronic service gives Virginians the convenience of uploading their advance health care documents, which become accessible to family members, friends, nurses, doctors and any other health care provider with access to their information.

As part of a joint initiative between the Virginia Department of Health, Microsoft Corporation and UNIVAL, Inc., the free electronic registry provides Virginians with an easy way to centralize their advance health care documents. Practical problems often arise making it difficult for those with advance health care directives to notify doctors, family members and other treating health care providers of their advance health care wishes.

Virginia law allows residents to draft medical power of attorney documents and DNR or “Do Not Resuscitate” orders in case they become mentally incapacitated or physically unable to state their health care wishes. As codified in the Virginia Code, they are typically upheld. Doctors must place these documents in a patient’s medical files once notified of their existence. However, a very ill patient transferred from facility to facility may have had practical problems notifying doctors of their existence. Furthermore, in the absence of notifying friends and family members, many facilities become unaware of their existence.

With the implementation of the new registry, I wonder if the Virginia Legislature will amend its existing statute regarding advance health care documents to allow patients to submit their documents electronically to their physicians. Furthermore, although the registry allows registrants to select personal passwords and identification numbers allowing for confidentiality, anyone can access it if a registrant provides his personal security information. In light of the health care privacy issues, does this pass muster?

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