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ABA-sponsored app helps families access advance directives and medical information

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Photo Illustration by Sara Wadford/Shutterstock

It was Barbara Keller’s experiences in elder law and caretaking for her parents that inspired her to develop the Mind Your Loved Ones app.

Keller, the senior partner at the Keller Legal Group in New York City, helps pro bono clients of the City Bar Justice Center’s cancer advocacy and elder law projects with their advance care directives. These include legal documents such as living wills that allow them to express their wishes for health care in case they are later incapacitated.

Keller needed quick access to her own family’s advance care directives when called in an emergency situation, when helping them in the hospital and in a rehabilitation center, and in figuring out how to set up home care.

She also saw several clients and their family members walk into hospitals with shopping bags full of critical information and realized they needed a more practical storage spot. She understood the importance of properly organizing that information.

“The idea of the app was really that simple,” she says. “It’s to ensure that vital information that affects critical health care decisions is controlled by the individual or by their loved ones and is readily accessible at the right time and the right place.

“Most people leave the information at home or in a drawer or somewhere, but there is no better place than to have it on your phone.”

Mind Your Loved Ones, a mobile app sponsored by the ABA and officially launched in May, allows users to create customized profiles for each member of their family, including their pets. Each profile contains not only their advance care directives, but also other important medical information.

The data is stored locally on each user’s smartphone but can be backed up in a Dropbox or iCloud account and emailed, faxed or printed. Mind Your Loved Ones can only access a user’s name and email address and none of his or her private information.

“It is truly saving people’s lives to have the information at your fingertips when you’re able to tell the hospital that a parent can or can’t take an MRI, or they can drink a certain contrast or can’t drink a certain contrast,” Keller says. “These are such simple pieces of information, but you would be surprised how many of us don’t know the answers.”

Wealth of information

The ABA Commission on Law and Aging’s first foray into storing and sharing advance care directives came in 2014 with its introduction of the My Health Care Wishes app.

When the ABA stopped distributing the app, Keller contacted the commission and bought the rights in 2017. She brokered a new relationship with the ABA and made plans to expand the app to cover more aspects of health care.

Jennifer VanderVeen is an elder law attorney with Tuesley Hall Konopa in South Bend, Indiana, and president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. She used My Health Care Wishes. So did her family, clients and colleagues.

The app was particularly helpful when her father was caring for her grandmother, and he used it to email his copy of her advance care directive to a physician when he was traveling.

After My Health Care Wishes ceased, VanderVeen continued to encourage clients to keep copies of their advance care directives on their phones. Mind Your Loved Ones puts everything caregivers need to assist aging relatives in one place, she says.

“A lot of times elderly people have four, five, six different doctors they may be seeing, and any time there is a hospital admission or a new doctor, they ask you all of those questions about your medications and insurance,” she says. “This makes it so easy to have it right there.”

VanderVeen contends that everyone would benefit if Mind Your Loved Ones was automatically downloaded on their phones.

“Not enough people realize they need these documents and how important they are,” she says. “Anything we can do to make it easy for people to get them in place is helpful.”

Right time, right place

As Keller developed Mind Your Loved Ones, she thought adults between the ages of 40 and 70 who were taking care of parents or children with special needs were the target audience.

She soon realized that anyone could use the app. More people are visiting urgent care instead of seeing general practice physicians, she says, leading to increasing issues with inconsistent medical records.

“Every time you go to an urgent care, you don’t know who you saw last or even what was the problem,” Keller says. “So I would say the app is really for anyone who is managing their own care or the care of others.”

Amos Goodall, an elder law attorney with Steinbacher, Goodall & Yurchak in State College, Pennsylvania, tells clients when they create advance care directives to ensure they appoint an agent who can be a proper advocate.

“Having this app on that person’s cellphone will give them more tools and more support in making sure what you want to have happen is actually what happens,” he says.

The same is true for Mind Your Loved Ones users who include their own advance directives and medical information, Goodall says.

“Clients want ways to carry their health care documents with them so they’re available when they’re needed and when they might not be thinking quite clearly in a stressful situation,” he says.

Keller wanted to work with the ABA on Mind Your Loved Ones since the Commission on Law and Aging has promoted advance care planning and the use of advance care directives for decades.

“This app plays right into the messaging from the ABA about the importance of advance care directives and the importance of health planning,” she says. “I think that having it at the right time and place when it actually becomes needed is the purpose of this whole thing.”

The Mind Your Loved Ones app is available with a $4.99 annual subscription through the ABA Store, the App Store or Google Play.

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Key features of the Mind Your Loved Ones app

The first section contains the person’s basic information, including phone number, address, profession, spoken languages and whether he or she lives alone. It also compiles medical information, such as allergies, preexisting conditions, blood type and immunizations.

It asks for information on emergency contacts and the health care proxy agent—the designated agent who makes health care decisions on behalf of a person who can no longer make those decisions on his or her own.

The third section includes an area for notes so users can keep track of doctors’ directions. It also includes a place to chart routine appointment and test outcomes. It also monitors activities of daily living, including bathing, continence and dressing, and instrumental activities of daily living, which are not necessary for fundamental functioning but allow a person to live independently. These include driving, caring for pets and managing medication.

The second section of the app collects specialty contacts that may be needed in an emergency, including doctors and other health care professionals, hospitals and rehabilitation centers, pharmacies, attorneys, accountants and financial advisers.

Mind Your Loved Ones’ fourth section contains advance care directives and medical records, which can be scanned and uploaded. It also provides more information about advance care directives, why they are important and how to complete them.

The fifth and sixth sections of the app similarly allow users to scan and upload copies of insurance cards, insurance forms and prescriptions. Users can also upload photos of medication.

This article was published in the July-August 2019 ABA Journal magazine with the title "Urgent Care."

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