Will I be able to talk to my parent’s doctors?
When my father asked me to accompany him into the doctor’s treatment room, I had no idea the impact that had on my ability to discuss his health and care with his doctor. (Jump to Lessons Learned)
My father’s primary care doctor and heart doctor were wonderful. Each visit began with a discussion of the New York Giants – gleeful over wins, commiserating over loses, always anticipating the next season and next game.
Even as dad’s health started to fail, his personal relationships with these doctors made office visits easier on me. I could see how much they cared and how careful they were to understand how he was really doing. Their open discussions in my presence gave me great insight into the progression of his congestive heart failure. I was able to question his prognosis, course of treatment, medication and ask some of the million and one questions racing through my mind. During the last months of dad’s life the doctors and I discussed what it meant that dad was on “borrowed time.”
I was lucky to be able to accompany dad on his doctor visits and to have a trusted family friend that went in my place when I was out of town. When parents do not live near their family, it is a struggle for the children to know what is going on medically and to keep on top of their needs. Too often when asked, parents won’t tell you about medical conditions or crisis because they don’t want you to worry. Add to that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy law and there is a real possibility that you will not be able to get information about your parent’s health when you need it.
- HIPAA is a complex law. The HIPAA Privacy Rule establishes national standards to protect individuals’ medical records and other personal health information. (Source: HHS Gov: The HIPAA Privacy Rule). It defines “covered entities” as health plans, health care clearinghouses and health care providers (e.g. physicians’ offices, hospitals etc.) and as such they are bound by the privacy standards of the law.
- The patient must identify the spouse, family members, friends, or other persons to whom the doctor or hospital can speak. (Source: HHS Gov: Can a doctor discuss health status, treatment or payments?). Permission for me to be in the treatment room and dad’s verbal permission is one way in which the law allows doctors to share medical information without violating it.
- The law does allow for some discretion on the part of the physician to share information. (Source: HHS Gov: HIPAA allows for professional judgement). However, if you are caring for a parent long distance and are unknown to the physician or hospital, there is a risk that you will be unable to get information about your mom or dad. Under these circumstances, encourage your parents to give verbal permission to the doctor to share information with named family members. In addition, every physician’s office, hospital etc. has its patients fill out and sign a HIPAA form. This occurs the first time you visit a doctor in the new year and upon admittance to a facility. Ask you parents to put your name and contact information down on the form for each of their doctors or hospital stays.
- Some states like California are really stringent about HIPAA, so talk to your own doctor to understand how your state operates and do additional research.
- If there is more than one child involved in your parent’s care, you should decide as a family if one person will be the contact or more than one. Then make sure that for each contact, verbal permission is given or the HIPAA contact information is included on the form for each doctor.
- In an emergency, every hospital should have a specific liaison for HIPAA questions.
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.