College-Age Children and HIPAA Privacy Rule in a Medical Emergency

When your adult-aged child is hospitalized, you might not have the legal authority to gain access to their medical records.  This is especially of concern for college-age children, who, on their own for the first time, might not be totally familiar with their own personal medical history (Did I ever have the chicken pox?), the family medical history (Did Great Aunt Sally have thyroid cancer or kidney cancer? What are common health problems in the family and on which side?), or when/if they are up-to-date on vaccines (I think I had the Varicella vaccine—maybe?)

Many horror stories from concerned parents recount how doctors and other medical personnel were unable able to discuss anything medically related for their hospitalized child who may be across the country.  Parents were unable to receive any updates on their child’s status and could not help in making any treatment decisions.

Parents are blocked from receiving any medical information as a result of the Federal government’s HIPAA Privacy Rule.  The legislation aims to protect patients’ medical records from unauthorized viewers to provide privacy for sensitive medical information.

So, how do you ensure that you have access to your child’s medical health?

  1. Have your child fill out the HIPAA Release of Information Authorization Form (CA Residents can find here)
  2. Medical Power of Attorney: allows for an “agent” to make medical decisions in the case of incapacitation (Form here for CA residents)
  3. Durable Power of Attorney Form: provides for more sweeping control, such as the ability to take care of business and financial matters (This form, found here for CA residents, is an especially good idea for students studying abroad.)

Release of records and specific state requirements may vary by state.  Should your child go to school in another state, for example, it is important that you consult the governing agency for that state to fill out appropriate documentation.

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