Medical Emergency Information for Parents of College Students

You send your kids off to college, young and healthy, with their whole lives ahead of them. It’s unlikely that you picture them enduring a serious medical emergency – or if you do, you write it off as normal parental anxiety. But the unfortunate truth is that, yes, anyone of any age could experience a life-threatening health crisis.

Due to HIPAA regulations, you could be shocked to discover that the hospital will not discuss your child’s treatment, nor allow you to make certain decisions regarding their medical care if he or she has reached age 18. This is true even if your child is still covered by your family health insurance plan.

If your son or daughter is conscious and able to sign a document, they can give authorization to share details of their treatment with you (or with anyone else of their choosing). This obviously isn’t an option if your child is unconscious, in too much pain, or sedated for surgical treatment. You all might find yourselves wishing this authorization could have been given at some prior time.

With proper planning you can do exactly that.

HIPAA Authorization. Your son or daughter can sign this form, and file it with their primary medical provider. Some universities even ask students to fill out these forms in case of emergencies. If your child names you on the document, doctors and nurses can discuss their medical care with you. If your child is nervous about privacy issues, remind them that only information pertinent to the emergency will be discussed. A HIPAA authorization does not necessarily grant you free access to their entire medical file. Your child can specify that sensitive information about their sex life or mental health treatment, for example, are not to be shared.

Advance Health Care Directive. An Advance Health Care Directive provides a medical power of attorney means that you will be able to make medical decisions on your child’s behalf, in the event that he or she is incapacitated. This document also states the individual’s wishes regarding life-sustaining interventions and organ donor wishes.

Durable power of attorney. Durable power of attorney extends rights a bit further, allowing you to take care of financial matters and other non-medical matters during your child’s illness. A power of attorney is also a good idea in the event that your son or daughter wishes to study abroad. You can take care of certain important matters, like filing taxes, pay bills, manage student loan money, and so on.

If you have a son or daughter headed off to college soon, or just turning 18, discuss the importance of these matters. No one, especially a teenager, wants to find themselves hundreds of miles from home, injured, and in the care of strangers. By meeting with an estate planning attorney now, you can prevent these difficulties in the event that they arise.


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