For years, doctors, lawyers and even bankers have walked the fine line between remaining ethical and loyal to their clients/patients while also seeking to not overshare intimate information with family members. It’s a difficult balance and breaking confidentiality is something no professional ever wants to do. It’s about making preparations now to avoid problems later, especially when it involves the privacy of an elderly parent.
For many of us, it never occurs to us that we could be on the wrong side of the hospital door if an emergency struck one of our parents. Without the proper legal documents in place, that is exactly what could happen. It’s all about planning ahead because if you wait until a healthcare emergency strikes, it’s likely too late to put those wheels in motion. The biggest mistake we make is allowing ourselves to believe legal documents that give permission for us to see an incapacitated parent or other loved one in the hospital is only for those families with internal familial problems. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The laws protect patients, but they also protect the doctors and nurses overseeing their care. These days, privacy is as big a priority as it’s ever been.
We have the advancement of technology to thank for that. It’s not that the conveniences aren’t great, it’s that the vulnerabilities could compromise our identities and that of an elderly parent, her finances and healthcare and that’s one risk doctors, hospitals and clinics won’t take.
These days, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is the big daddy of medical privacy. It ensures a person’s health information and records are kept private. Without proper HIPAA authorizations, it’s illegal for any medical professional to share any detail – even whether your parent is a patient in a hospital. It matters little that you can provide copies of the will leaving you the entire fortune as proof that you’re on Dad’s good side, nor will presenting a family photo album as proof of your close family ties soften the doctor’s heart. Those photos mean the world to you, but unless there’s a HIPAA authorization printed on the back of one of those pictures, you won’t learn anything about what’s happening on the other side of that hospital door. If your elderly parent is incompetent due to illness or injury, you won’t be able to ask her to confirm that it’s OK if you visit or speak with the doctor.
Obviously, you’ll want to provide copies to your elderly parent’s doctor, but it’s also a good idea to have a copy filed with his other estate planning documents maintained in his attorney’s office.
Health Care Directive
Sometimes referred to as a medical power of attorney or health care proxy, this legal document is drawn by your loved one’s estate planning lawyer and it grants the person named decision making power for things related to your parent’s health. The key to a solid health care directive is drawing it up while your parent’s mental capacities are in place. Not doing so could threaten the power of the document.
The advance healthcare directive, or living will, allows us to make our own decisions regarding end of life care. We can provide specifics on the kind of artificial means that are acceptable to keep us alive. We can also provide instructions on what kind of resuscitation efforts are acceptable, whether life support is acceptable and if so, for how long. We can provide insight on feeding tubes, surgeries and anything else at a medical team’s disposal for extending life.
We invite you to consider the importance of each of these documents and then call us to learn more about how they can protect you and your loved ones.