“You can usually only find out private medical information about your parents from their doctor, if they give the doctor permission to tell you the information or you have a medical records release that satisfies the strict HIPAA requirements and is signed by them.”
Before the days of HIPAA regulations, doctors would use their discretion in sharing a patient’s confidential medical information with close family members. Since the rules are different now, you must know what to expect if you are wondering, I think my parents are hiding a serious illness – can my parents’ doctor give me information about their health?
HIPAA regulations: The General Rule
You can usually only find out private medical information about your parents from their doctor, if they give the doctor permission to tell you the information or a medical records release satisfies the strict HIPAA requirements and is signed by them. If they are trying to hide something from you, they can revoke the release form .
Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy
You are unlikely to get the information about your parents’ health by using a durable power of attorney, if they gave you one. Durable power of attorney documents usually only cover financial matters, not medical information.
If you have a health care proxy from your parents, it can give you the authority to decide. However, it is only if your parents cannot make or communicate their decisions. As long as they have the capacity, they make the rules about their care and privacy. A health care proxy will not always give you the right to see their medical information – only a medical records release form will do that consistently.
Although it seems counterintuitive that a person with the legal authority to make health care decisions would be refused the information to make the best choices, doctors and other health care providers must follow the HIPAA rules, or they can face legal action. HIPAA allows people to consent verbally to the release of their medical information, but to cover themselves, most doctors and hospitals insist on a signed, written form.
Information the Doctor May Tell You
If your parents have instructed their doctor not to tell you their medical information, she cannot go against their wishes. However, if your parents have not ordered their doctor not to tell you and the doctor can reasonably conclude that they would not object, here are examples of things she can tell you:
- Your parents’ mobility limitations, if you are transporting them from the doctor’s office or hospital
- Medication dosage and administration instructions
- Information about the hospitalization and their care needs if they are hospitalized, but only what is necessary and relevant.
The Bottom Line
If your parents do not want you to know about a serious illness, they can keep it from you as long as they retain the capacity to make and communicate that decision. If your parents become incapacitated or it is an emergency circumstance, the doctor may use his professional judgment to determine if sharing the information would be in the best interests of the patient.
The laws in your state may differ from the general law in this posting, so always check with an elder law attorney in your area.
Better Health While Aging. “10 Things to Know About HIPAA & Access to a Relative’s Health Information.” (accessed October 29, 2017) https://betterhealthwhileaging.net/hipaa-basics-and-faqs-for-family-caregivers/
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “Health Information Privacy: Disclosures to Family and Friends.” (accessed October 29, 2017) https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/faq/disclosures-to-family-and-friends