Away at College: Will You Be Able To Help Your Child In A Medical Emergency?

Posted on August 13, 2018

It’s that time of year. The summer is coming to a close and we as parents are getting our children ready for school. If you have college age kids like I do, you have more to think about than just getting the necessary school supplies at Staples. Most college freshmen are either 18 years old or are fast approaching that magical milestone. We want our child’s college years to be filled with continued growth intellectually and socially. We also are well aware that although our child is on the cusp of adulthood they can and often do still require a good deal of guidance from their parents. We want to provide our college age children with enough independence to continue to grow and mature but we recognize that there are many aspects of life where they still need us. Nowhere is this truer than when they become ill or are injured while away at college and require medical attention. Accidents are the leading cause of death for young adults, and a quarter-million Americans between 18 and 25 are hospitalized with non-lethal injuries each year. We pride ourselves as good parents and know that we will drop everything in a time of need and be there for our children. However if your child becomes ill or is injured while away at college and he or she is 18 years of age or older you may find yourself in the dark and unable to obtain the necessary information about your child’s condition or give guidance on their care. That is terrifying thought to any parent!
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects the privacy of medical records. As soon as your child turns 18 you no longer have access to their medical information. Fortunately there are a few simple forms that your child can complete which will permit healthcare providers to share information with you and include you in the critical medical treatment decision-making process.

(1) A HIPAA Authorization
A signed HIPAA form allows healthcare providers to disclose your health information to anyone you specify. A generic HIPAA authorization form can be found online, your doctor’s office or on many college websites. These forms do not need to be notarized and typically include a section where the student can specify what kinds of information they do not want disclosed (for example, mental health, sexual health, drug use etc.). Both you and your child should keep hard copies and store scans on your computer and mobile phone.
Since the well being of a patient trumps HIPAA, if a patient is unable to communicate, doctors can use their own judgment about sharing information with family members who are present. A phone call to the Emergency Room however will probably be handled differently — the person answering may not be willing to share information or even confirm for you that your child is a patient at the hospital. That can cost valuable time in a crisis situation.

(2) A Healthcare Proxy
In signing a medical healthcare proxy, your child appoints you as an agent to make medical decisions on their behalf in case they are incapacitated and can’t make decisions for themselves. Each state has different laws governing medical healthcare proxies and therefore different legal forms. In Massachusetts, the form needed to be completed can be found by clicking here.

Power of Attorney
As an additional step, a student over 18 years old should consider appointing a durable power of attorney, enabling a parent or other designated agent to take care of business on their behalf. If the student becomes incapacitated due to an injury or illness or if he or she is studying abroad, the parent or other agent would be able to act on their child’s behalf to conduct any transaction that the student would have had the power to engage in if the incapacity did not exist. Some examples include signing tax returns, accessing bank accounts, and paying bills. These forms vary by state and you should consult an attorney before signing a Power of Attorney as they give the agent broad powers.
We hope your child safely enjoys and benefits from the college experience to the fullest. If however your child does becomes ill or is injured while away at school, having taken the time to have these signed documents in your possession will ensure that you can do what every parent wants to do…be there to help.