Privacy deserves to be respected and preserved. But HIPAA [the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, 1997] protects the patient, not the institution or the provider. And the patient can informally agree to share her health care information with her family, with friends, with anyone she chooses.

No one likes hospitals, except when you need one. Unfortunately, families caring for their elderly loved ones are finding hospitals and other care facilities full of legal red tape that is increasingly difficult to navigate.

Sometimes the red tape is simply hospital policy gone too far. Regardless, navigating the maze requires doing your homework ahead of time. For example, what do you know about HIPAA?

HIPAA is the “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1997.” The title of a recent article in the New Old Age Blog of The New York Times summarizes the issue well: “A Privacy Law Often Misinterpreted.

One purpose of the law is to ensure the privacy of medical data. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean the hospital is intended to protect the privacy of the patient from their loved ones, especially when that loved one is present during an examination! In fact, HIPAA does not prevent health care providers from sharing relevant information regarding a patient with their family members, unless the patient objects.

The original article is a worthy and enlightening read, whether you are a patient, a family member or even a medical professional. Apparently, there is a lot of misinformation leading to misinterpretation when it comes to HIPAA.

Bottom line: make sure you have up-to-date Advance Health Directives that specifically provide your designated agents with current and future access to all of your medical information, verbal and written, with specific authority to execute HIPAA releases on your behalf.

Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.
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