If your 85-year-old mother was rushed to the hospital, would you be able to get the information you need about her condition from the doctors treating her? If your college-age son showed signs of severe depression, could you talk to his therapist? What if your spouse or partner was in a car accident? Would you be able to make important medical decisions on his or her behalf?
To ensure you can be part of the medical decision-making process for the people you care about, you need several key documents. And it’s important to have these documents in place well before an emergency or issue arises.
The documents you need as the parent or guardian of young adult children
Once your children reach the age of majority, you may not be able to be part of their medical decisions or access their medical information. That can be true even if they’re still on your health insurance, live with you, or can be claimed as a dependent for tax purposes.
These four documents will make sure you’re included in making medical decisions and can access medical information:
HIPAA release or authorization. This gives health care providers your child’s permission to release medical information to anyone he or she specifies on the form. If your child is concerned about sharing certain types of medical information, like sexual health, there’s an option to limit what types of information can be shared. If your child attends school or lives in another state, find out if there’s a state-specific HIPAA authorization.
Medical power of attorney. This form, also called a health care power of attorney, designation of health care proxy, or durable power of attorney for health care, lets your child choose a person to make medical decisions if he or she cannot. If your child is lives or attends school in another state, it may be wise to complete forms for your location and then state where he or she attends school or lives.
Comprehensive medical record. Your child should have a medical record that includes all current and past diagnoses, surgeries, treatments, diagnostic test results, family medical history, and current medications. This gives any physician who treats your child information that can reduce the risk of misdiagnosis and medical errors.
Durable power of attorney. This lets you make financial decisions on your child’s behalf, pay bills, and access financial information. If your child is not on your family health insurance plan, it will also let you to talk with his or her health insurer about claims and get information from a hospital or health care provider’s billing department.
Caring for your spouse, partner, or parents: the paperwork you need
In most states, there are six documents you’ll need to access your spouse, partner, or parents’ medical information and financial medical insurance and billing information:
HIPAA authorization. If there’s information they don’t wish to share with you, they can indicate that on the form. In the case of spouses, if one spouse can’t make medical decisions for him or herself, the other does not need HIPAA authorization. The same may not be true for domestic partners, however, depending on where you live.
Advance directive. An advance directive or living will describes the types of medical care you do and do not want if you are dying or not expected to regain consciousness. The document also spells out when these decisions should be applied.
Durable power of attorney for health care. This names the person you would like to be responsible for making medical decisions on your behalf, known as a health care proxy. Your spouse, partner, or parents can specify whether they want their proxy to be able to make all medical decisions or just specific ones.
Durable power of attorney. With a durable power of attorney, you can make financial decisions, pay bills, and access financial information. The document also permits you to get information from health insurers, long-term care insurance providers, and hospital and health care providers’ billing departments.
Medical records. An up-to-date medical record is especially important if your spouse, partner, or parents see several specialists. This record can help make sure key information is available to everyone who treats them and lower the risk of overtreatment, duplicate diagnostic testing, and prescription drug interactions. It also helps guard against the prescription of duplicate or no longer needed medications.
Letter of instruction. This outlines end-of-life wishes. It may cover a range of issues, including funeral and/or memorial service arrangements, organ and tissue donation, and plans for the care of pets. It may also include financial information—the location of the will and any safe deposit boxes; bank, investment, and retirement account locations and numbers; PIN numbers and passwords for banking and investing accounts; life insurance information; and contact information for financial and legal advisors.
Miles J. Varn is chief executive officer, PinnacleCare, and can be reached on LinkedIn.
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