HIPAA & 18-Year-Old Patients

By Art Gross, President and CEO, HIPAA Secure Now!
Twitter: @HIPAASecureNow
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As a parent, you might recall the first time that the doctor asked you to leave the room because your “baby is now a teenager” (ugh, cry, sigh…. joy?) and they have a few questions for them that they would like to conduct one-on-one and in private. Suddenly your brain races, ‘what do they need to know that I can’t answer?’ or ‘wait, what will my kid tell them that I can’t hear?’

Parenting is like living on a roller coaster that you can’t get off, full of highs, lows, elation, fear, joy…all while trying to maintain some sense of control. Up until now, you’ve had an all-access pass to your child’s life, and more likely than not, won’t be turned away at the door. Emailing the teacher weekly for answers? You’ll get a response. Volunteering to chaperone on that school trip? Easy enough. Handing over the keys to the car? That’s all up to you.

When Your Child Turns 18
But when your child turns 18 and you need access to their medical records? There’s a doorman called HIPAA that won’t let you in, and nothing is going to change how far past him you can get. And while you still see your child as, well a child, the law sees him or her as an adult.

It’s likely that you’re paying the health insurance premium or are the policyholder for your child. This does not give you access to their medical records. And yes, even if you are paying it up to the age of 26, which many parents do.

The HIPAA Release Form
There are ways to ensure that you can be informed and of assistance in a medical emergency to your adult-aged child. Have in place a HIPAA release form and a medical power of attorney. Some outlets recommend a third document, a durable power of attorney as well. The HIPAA release or authorization is like a permission slip for the healthcare provider to disclose health information to anyone specified. This can be modified to not allow disclosure of information that relates to sex, mental health, drugs, or other specific details. The HIPAA release form does NOT need to be notarized but does need to be signed. You do not need to pay to have this form completed, and while there are multiple options online, we have found one here that you can access.

The Medical Power of Attorney Form
The medical power of attorney form allows you to make medical decisions on your child’s behalf if they are unable. This form can go by various names including a healthcare power of attorney, designation of a healthcare proxy, or durable power of attorney for healthcare. You can also complete a living will that will address your healthcare power of attorney.

Can Information Be Shared Without a Signature?
A medical provider can still choose to share private health information with a family member if these documents have not been signed. This will happen if they feel it is in the patient’s best interest. However, this isn’t a guarantee, and it isn’t often done due to concern about maintaining HIPAA compliance. The patient can also verbally tell the healthcare provider that it is ok to share information and doesn’t object. These areas can be quite undefined and are not going to be the same from situation to situation, so it is best to have the proper forms in place to avoid any problems when it becomes necessary to know.

Discuss the Importance
Have a conversation with your child and explain why this is important, and that it isn’t so that you can snoop into their lives, it is so that they have a trusted person with power who can act in their best interest should a medical emergency arise. This is especially important if they are away at college or have moved out of state. Review the documentation for that state, as it can be different than where you reside. It is important to be familiar with the rules about HIPAA and your 18-year-old child before it becomes a medical necessity.

Once you complete these documents, scan them, and save them to your phone so that they are easily accessed anywhere and not locked up in a safe at home where you can’t get to them quickly.

Healthcare Providers & Organizations
You know that HIPAA factors into patient care, but this adds a new level of awareness for patients (and parents) that are in this demographic. Being cognizant that the parents will likely feel uneasy and unsure for a variety of reasons with this change in their relationship will possibly require you to provide more of a ‘gentle bedside manner’ than normal. Aside from being unaware that this is the way it must be to stay within HIPAA guidelines, they will also be facing a milestone that can feel bittersweet. You can explain to them the options that they have, and encourage them to have open conversations as well with their children before it happens so as to not blindside anyone, especially in an emergency situation.

This article was originally published on HIPAA Secure Now! and is republished here with permission.