Can your family access your protected health information?

Though you certainly hope that you will never end up facing an incapacitating medical scenario, you know that the possibility exists. Just like all other Pennsylvania residents and people all over the world, you are not immune to accidents or many serious illnesses. As a result, it is wise to prepare for an incapacitating event, even if you never need to put your preparations into effect.

Fortunately, you can plan for the possibility of incapacitation through your estate plan. One matter to address when working on your plan is to ensure that your family, or at least specific members of your family, have access to your protected health information.

Accessing your PHI

You have likely heard of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, and how it protects your personal information from disclosure to unapproved parties. The Act specifically applies to protected health information, which is information that relates to your state of health, medical care received and other personal information that health care providers cannot share with outside parties. Medical professionals take HIPAA compliance seriously, and even if you find yourself in an incapacitated state, they cannot share that information with just anyone.

As a result, you may want to ensure that your family can access your PHI, which can include the following information:

  • Your current, future or past health information or conditions
  • Your payment information for past, current or future medical care
  • The type of care you received
  • Results from any tests
  • Personal information, such as Social Security number, telephone number, address and more

If your family does not have access to your PHI, they may be in the dark as to what is happening with your health and may not be able to make decisions regarding your treatment. As a result, they may need to go to court to obtain authorization to make decisions on your behalf while you remain incapacitated.

Planning ahead

Fortunately, you can plan ahead to avoid such a distressing and time-consuming situation by filling out a HIPAA release form that gives one or more family members (or other parties of your choosing) access to your PHI. This form essentially grants medical professionals the ability to share your information with those you deem appropriate. It can be included as part of your estate plan, and you could appoint someone to act as your power of attorney agent, who could step in immediately and make decisions on your behalf if needed.