Friday 20 April 2018

Majority don't understand what 'next of kin' means on medical forms

Sage, an advocacy group for older people, wants the term “next of kin” dropped from healthcare forms after finding that most people don’t understand what it means. Stock photo
Sage, an advocacy group for older people, wants the term “next of kin” dropped from healthcare forms after finding that most people don’t understand what it means. Stock photo
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

It is an ancient term that has featured on forms across the health sector over generations. Now Sage, an advocacy group for older people, wants the term "next of kin" dropped from healthcare forms after finding that most people don't understand what it means.

Next of kin refers to blood relatives and, in medical terms, means the person to contact in an emergency. An online Red C poll commissioned by Sage found that more than half of those questioned wrongly believed that "next of kin" also bestowed power to make major decisions on their behalf.

Sage said the misunderstanding is a serious issue for anyone undergoing medical care, especially for vulnerable adults and older people.

"Next of kin" only means that person should be contacted in the event of an emergency. However the misunderstanding of the term has resulted in people listed as "next of kin" inappropriately signing contracts and making decisions for older relatives, who had the capacity to make decisions for themselves, according to Sage.

"It is particularly worrying that 52pc believed that 'next of kin' was 'someone who can make a decision about life support treatment for me' and 35pc believed that 'next of kin' was 'the only person to be given medical or personal information about me'," said Mervyn Taylor, director of Sage. "It's time to stop using the term 'next-of- kin'."

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