How do I gain access to my parent's medical records without a durable power of attorney?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Help! HIPAA -- the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 -- has become a nightmare for me. I want to learn about my mother's cancer, but she seems to want to "protect" me from this information. My doctor won't even speak to me without her permission. What can I do to help her decide on a course of treatment?

Expert Answer

HIPAA has proven to be a nightmare for more than a few families. Legally, you need to be named in a HIPAA authorization to gain access to your mother's data, or even to talk to her doctor -- even if she has given you a durable power of attorney for healthcare. Technically, if you call a hospital and ask if it has admitted your parent, they're not allowed to confirm or deny that without consent in a HIPAA form.

When you sign a durable power of attorney for healthcare, make sure to sign a HIPAA supplement or release. Some doctors and facilities are very strict in enforcing this and check these forms diligently, while others do not. If you fill out a durable power of attorney for healthcare or a healthcare directive with an attorney's help, she'll advise you to sign a

HIPAA release

. Again, this was designed to give patients, not the caregiver, control over their own healthcare and over who has access to their health records. Gently remind your mother that there may be times in the future when it will make sense to have another person go over test results or consult with a specialist, and you can probably persuade her that this is in her best interest, while satisfying your need to assist in her care.