Medical Emergency Information for Parents of College Students

It’s no secret that we’re all more conscious of our health and our family’s health because of the current global pandemic.

Which leads me to ask: Have you ever wondered who has the authority to make medical decisions for your college age adult children? Do you have that authority merely because you are the parent?

If you have a son or daughter heading off to college soon, who is an essential worker, or just turning 18, read on.

In these uncertain times there is more reason than ever to ensure that you have authorization to discuss your college age child’s medical information. This includes the ability to make medical decisions in the event your child is unable to make decisions for themselves.

Whether you are sending your kids off to college, or they are attending college virtually, the threat of contracting COVID-19 is real. Even without the current global pandemic, there is a myriad of accidents and illness that could affect your young adult child. It’s unlikely that you picture them enduring a serious medical emergency. And if you do, you write it off as normal parental anxiety. The unfortunate truth is that, yes, anyone of any age could experience a life- threatening health crisis, and that has never been more true than now.

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, on a ventilator, in too much pain, or sedated for surgical treatment. This is the worst time to find out that you do not have access to medical information, cannot make decisions about your child’s treatment or care, and that you legally have no authority without court intervention.

With proper planning you can protect yourself and your child from this scary and frustrating result. Here’s how:

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 and 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, paying bills, managing student loan money, and so on. Be sure to discuss these important matters with your 18-year-old or older child. 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. Now more than ever, time is of the essence. Be prepared.

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