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Friday, August 14, 2015

College, Your Child's Health and a Parent's Right to Know

Over 18 million undergraduate students will be attending college in 2015.1  The majority will be women. And just about all of the students will be over 18.

This means more than you might realize.

It's a New World

Years ago, at a parent orientation for college freshman, my wife and I were advised that even though we may be paying the entire cost of our son's education, we would not be entitled to see his grades.  That seemed a bit unfair, but the moderator at the orientation told us about the privacy laws and how it not only affected grades and any disciplinary actions, but also health records.

That same year, my son changed his doctor from his pediatrician to the same internist I had had for 25 years. When I asked our internist how my son was doing, he gave me a blank stare and reminded me that my son had not given him permission to discuss any aspect of his health with me. "HIPAA," he explained.

Two Disturbing Reports

Two very disturbing reports on college students appeared in the press earlier this year.  In the first, a US News and World Report article discussed the increase in depression among college students.2   Depression isn't just feeling sad.  It can be a debilitating disease leading to other diseases and even suicide attempts.  And if your child is suffering from depression, you may be cut out of any important medical decisions at the time when your child needs you the most, unless you have an properly executed Healthcare Power of Attorney available to give to the medical staff.

Even more disturbing is the frequency of college rape.  A recent CNN report3  revealed that almost 20% of college women had been a victim of an actual or attempted rape.  Though there had been some dispute on the validity of the study, it seems to ring true.  How many times are you aware of a girl who had been given too much to drink, only to wake up and realize that something bad had happened the night before?  Whether the method used to force the rape is an knife to the throat or over-consumption of drugs or alcohol, the consequences are the same.  The young woman needs medical care.  She needs support and understanding.  She needs the support of the only people who have been caring for her her entire life - her parents.

If There Is An Emergency

Both the depressed student and the raped student could give the medical staff permission to discuss their conditions with parents if they are conscious, but they will have to sign a release.  Why put a son or a daughter through that added stress at such a difficult time?  Have a HIPAA-compliant, properly executed Healthcare Power of Attorney on file, ready for any emergency.  One of the reasons why we designed SafelyMD was to make personal medical information digitally available--and protected--for emergency situations, especially for our children.

In an earlier blog, our own Terri Caldwell explained how shocked one of her friends was when a medical professional refused to discuss her son's health with her and talked directly to her son.  Even her son was not prepared to take on the decision-making responsibility his mother had handled for the past 18 years.  Terri explained the privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). She also discussed Healthcare Powers of Attorney and how they are not simply documents for "old people," but were extremely important for spouses and over-18 children as well, especially if the children were far away at school and your first contact with any medical staff is likely to be via the phone.  In another very useful blog, Terri provided links to state sites for forms and instructions on how to prepare those documents and transmit them electronically if necessary.

We Are Parents Too

When my own children went off to college, my wife and I had that familiar mixture of excitement for them, coupled with fear for all the bad things that could happen.  If you will be sending your own children off to college this year, take a fraction of the time you might be spending at Bed Bath & Beyond and invest it in reducing one of those nagging worries you will have until they come back home. Make sure your children and you understand HIPAA and the need for a bit of preparation.

We understand what you are going through and just wanted to give you something to make that fear a little bit less and the excitement a little bit bigger.

1 http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_105.20.asp

2 http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2015/02/06/college-freshmen-socialize-less-feel-depressed-more.  

3 http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/20/living/feat-rape-freshmen-women-new-study/

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