April 16th is National Healthcare Decision day. It's a day to remind us to plan ahead and make sure that if we can't speak for ourselves, that somebody has the authority to speak on our behalf and make sure that our wishes about healthcare are known.
It's Not Just For the Old
Last year, my colleague Terri Caldwell posted a blog about college-aged children and the need for Healthcare Powers of Attorney. As Terri pointed out, as you raise your children, you meet with their pediatrician, have access to all their records and routinely make health-related decisions on their
behalf. But the day they turn 18, BAM, everything changes. Not only do you no longer have a right to their records and have no say in their healthcare decisions, but it can be against the law (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) for the pediatrician to share any information without your child's written OK.
And those of us who are parents know how college-aged kids are about getting around to doing things like simply signing a piece of paper. ("Can you send it me again, mom. I lost it.")
It's A Little More Complicated
Even if your child signed a HIPAA release at the doctor's office authorizing you to see the records, that isn't enough. First, merely having the release doesn't automatically give you the right to make a healthcare decision. It only gives you the right to see a record. And, each healthcare provider needs a separate release. So, if your child were in an accident while on a trip, the release that was signed at the doctor's office doesn't apply to the hospital 300 miles away.
But There Is A Solution
It's called a Healthcare Power of Attorney. Everyone over 18 should have one. In fact, all of the states in the US think it's so important that they have posted blank forms on their websites, free of charge, for anyone to fill out, along with instructions and explanations. We have a list of each State's website here.
The beauty of a properly drafted Healthcare Power of Attorney is that it works in two ways. First, if the person who signed the Power of Attorney is conscious and able to make a decision, the person or persons they designate can see their records, discuss the situation with the doctors and help them make a decision about the type of treatment he or she will get. Second, if the person is unconscious or otherwise unable to make decisions, the person who has been given authority can make a decision without the delay of waiting for a court order.
Have It Available
An executed Healthcare Power of Attorney is useless if the healthcare providers don't have a copy, so you need to make sure it is available at a moment's notice. In the next two weeks we'll discuss the psychological benefits of a Power of Attorney, its impact on the family, and how to make sure it is always available.