Phil is a 19-year-old college student, who was seriously injured in an automobile accident. His condition is now stable and he’s expected to improve. However, he is not yet able to communicate and some decisions must be made about his therapy and treatment.
Unfortunately, Phil’s parents are unable to get information from his medical records and have no authority to make decisions for him because he was injured in a state that doesn’t have a “priority listing” of who can make decisions for incapacitated patients. In addition, the hospital’s medical staff won’t share details about Phil’s condition with his parents over the telephone because of his right to privacy as an adult.
Some states have laws to cover a patient who hasn’t designated someone to make health care decisions on their behalf. Such laws contain a priority listing of those who can make decisions for an incapacitated patient. However, in other states, those decisions may be limited to withholding or withdrawing treatment; they may not give the authority necessary to protect a patient. And in other states, the law gives doctors the power to decide for patients if there are conflicts among the decision makers on the list.
What can parents do to ensure their child is protected if he or she is unable to make his/her own health care decisions? Two important health-related forms can make all the difference. Be sure your student completes them before leaving for college.
First is the Advance Health Care Directive. This document is a medical power of attorney that allows students to appoint who they would like to be their health care agents. The appointed agent can make medical decisions on the student’s behalf if the student becomes severely injured or rendered unconscious. When parents fax a signed and notarized Advance Health Care Directive to the hospital where their child has been admitted, doctors can inform them of the nature of the student’s injury or illness and parents can give directions regarding the student’s medical care.
Here is one site where you can obtain a state-specific Advance Health Care Directive. Scroll to the bottom of the Web page, select the appropriate state, and print and complete the form. Be sure to sign and notarize the form and file it in a safe place. In addition, it is advisable to complete an Advance Health Care Directive for your student’s home state as well as the state in which he or she will attend college.
Secondly, you and your student should complete a Medical Information Release Form. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) prohibits the release of personal health information (written, oral and electronic medical records) without patient consent. So, if parents need to share their student’s medical records with medical professionals in an emergency situation (for student blood type, allergies, vaccinations, past medical procedures, etc.), parents must have a Medical Information Release Form, such as this one, signed by their student. This information can equally apply to children out of college who may not be married or have another to speak on their behalf.
We hope you’re never in a situation where it’s necessary to use these documents. However, it’s better to be prepared than to find yourself in the position of Phil and his parents. Don’t you agree?
Brian Huey MBA, CFP®