As your parents get older, there may come a time when you have to get more involved in their health care and access their medical information.
This may happen for a few reasons:
- They can no longer drive themselves to medical appointments so you step in to help.
- They may have cognitive issues—such as Alzheimer’s or dementia—that hinder them from making decisions about their medical care.
- They have multiple chronic conditions that require help from others to manage. Even if they have other caregivers involved, those caregivers may turn to you for guidance.
- An accident or emergency happens that leaves them unconscious, and you have to provide medical information to healthcare providers.
One major concern when you are helping to manage medical care for parents is obtaining access to their medical information. This article will discuss some proactive ways to access your parent’s medical information.
Getting Your Parents Involved With Sharing Medical Information
The easiest way to get access to your parent’s medical information is simply to ask them. That should always be the first step, albeit not always the easiest. Here are a few tips to get you started.
If your parents are the organized type, ask if they will make a couple of lists for you.
A list of their doctors and corresponding phone numbers, a list of their chronic conditions, and a list of medications that they use. (Obviously, this is an option if your parents have the mental and physical capacity to make this type of list.)
If they are hesitant to create these lists, stress the value of having this information in an emergency or due to a decline in their health. If they’re willing to share this information with you but aren’t sure where to start, you can help them compile these lists.
When it comes to medications, make sure that they share any natural supplements they use in addition to prescription and nonprescription drugs. Having these types of lists is useful for their regular doctors’ appointments as well.
Ask your parents if they want you to be part of their healthcare provider appointments.
If you are present during these appointments, it is safe for health providers to assume that your parents are okay with you knowing about medical information that is shared during the appointment. Be an extra help to your parents by asking questions or taking notes. However, make sure your parents remain in control of their discussions with their health providers.
We recommend taking notes directly within a secure app like WayWiser. This ensures that the information is safely stored, that it can easily be shared with others in your family who may be helping out, and that you’ll be able to find it later on when you need to look back at the details.
Make sure your parents fill out the right paperwork.
Doctors’ offices will have a form that gives their office permission to share health information as needed with specific people named on that form. Your parents should request this form if they haven’t already and list your contact information. There are a lot of laws related to health information (you’ve likely heard the acronym HIPAA before and we’ll dive into that more below) and it’s important to have written permission to access your parent’s medical information or it could become a legal issue in the future that is tough to get around.
Double check whether your parents have completed important health-related paperwork, such as an advance healthcare directive and healthcare proxy.
These forms can name you to have legal decision-making power, but they also help you to know their care preferences. Here’s a brief explainer on these types of forms:
- A Healthcare Proxy is a legal form that names a person who can have decision-making powers over another person’s health and also have access to their medical records. This is also sometimes called Healthcare Surrogate or Durable Medical Power of Attorney.
- An Advance Healthcare Directive covers several topics, including a Living Will, Healthcare Proxy, Do Not Resuscitate, and Do Not Intubate order. All of these provide written guidance for a person’s medical care preferences. These are best completed before someone is in a situation where they need this type of care. This information is valuable to a doctor if there are multiple people who disagree about your care decisions as the directives will state what your wishes are.
- A Durable Power of Attorney grants someone or several people legal powers on behalf of someone else. This usually covers legal matters but you may hear it mentioned along with the healthcare forms named above. These are common documents involved with estate planning.
A lawyer can help with these types of documents. State laws may vary regarding these documents. Find more information about these on the American Bar Association website.
Other Ways to Obtain Medical Information About Your Parents
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets rules regarding patient information and privacy. Under HIPAA, healthcare providers cannot typically share information about a person’s health information without consent.
However, there are some exceptions to this. Your parent can give oral permission to share information with you in certain cases, and that may be enough depending on the situation.
If you don’t have healthcare power of attorney for a parent, healthcare providers can use their discretion under the law to decide what is in the patient’s best interest in terms of sharing health information with you or another family member, according to the American Bar Association.
The U.S. Health and Human Services website shares a few examples of when a health provider may decide to share health information with another family member, if there is not a legal representative:
- With the patient’s permission, a doctor could talk with a family member or friend who accompanied them to the hospital.
- A pharmacist can assume that a patient is OK with the person picking up their prescription.
- If a patient is injured and cannot give permission to speak with others, a healthcare provider can share information with a family member or friend if it is in your best interest.
The Department of Health and Human Services shares more information on HIPAA rules and the sharing of health information at the following link.
The best way to handle the sometimes complicated territory of obtaining medical information regarding a loved one, including your parents, is to plan in advance. And, once you do have access to that information, be sure to store important documents, such as an Advanced Directive, both in writing and in a secure digital format within WayWiser Defender or on similarly secure, cloud-based software.