Advance directives are terrific tools that let you chose how you want your medical decisions handled if you are unable to make them yourself. But they can only be effective if they can be found and shared when they are needed. A new app produced by the American Bar Association hopes to make advance directives more accessible and more effective by storing them on your iPhone or Android smartphone.
My Health Care Wishes is an “Advance Directive Manager.” It lets you store your advance directive, along with other key medical information like the name of your health care agent and the name of your doctor, directly on your phone. It does not create an advance directive for you, or help you make any of the decisions associated with an advanced care plan. You need to already have those documents.
It comes in a free “Lite” version that lets you store one document and one profile and a $3.99 “Pro” version that lets you create unlimited profiles and store unlimited documents. So if Mom wanted to store her own advance directive and the advance directives of her husband and children on her phone, she would need the Pro version. If Dad also wanted all those documents on his phone in case Mom isn’t available, he would need to pay an additional $3.99.
The interface of the app is simple and easy to use. You can store contact information for your health care agent (called a “proxy” here) grabbed from your Contacts already on your phone, or enter it manually. Storing an advance directive in PDF or Word format requires sending it as an attachment to an email address you can access on your phone, and then opening it in the app. It went smoothly when I tried it, but does require a few steps.
The app tries to navigate the tricky area of privacy, but makes compromises. The app boasts that “Confidentiality of information is protected because the data resides only on your smartphone, not on any server or cloud service.” The security issues associated with cloud storage are avoided, but so are any of the benefits. If your phone is lost, damaged or inaccessible, you won’t be able to access anything stored on it.
Having the information stored on the phone may not be enough security for some. If someone gains access to your phone, they would have access to any medical and personal information stored on the app. The app lets you create a 4-digit password as an option, but there is no password recovery option. So if you if you decide to use the password and you lose it, you’re out of luck. And if a family member or doctor needs to access the information and they don’t have your password, you might lock out the very people who need it.
How would your physician know that your advance directive is stored on your phone? The app lets you create and print wallet cards that notify anyone that your wishes are stored on your phone. The creators of the app also hope that in future the app will become so popular that physicians will look in your phone for the app.
It’s doubtful that physicians would look on your phone for the app or notice the icon. A wallet card would certainly help. A wallet card could also describe where a hard copy is, but the hard copy might not be accessible. And that’s the real benefit of the app: in situations where your phone is accessible, but your hard copy of your advance directive is not, the app could be invaluable.
You should always keep a copy of your advance directive in a secure place, give a copy to your health care agent and a give a copy to your primary care physician. If you’re comfortable using this app and the costs that come with it, your smarthphone could be another place to store it. For most, the benefits of the additional accessibility provided outweigh the downsides.
I reviewed version 2.0.2 of My Health Care Wishes Lite on my iPhone 4s. This review is not associated with the American Bar Association.
Montefusco Estate Planning, LLC is an estate planning law firm in Frederick, MD. If you are interested in our services, contact us today. This information is written for the context of Maryland estate planning but is not legal advice for anyone. For more information, read our disclaimer.