If you have concerns about an aging loved one’s health and are involved in their daily care, it is very important to understand the impact of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) on caregiving.

What is HIPAA?

In 1996, the Department of Health and Human Services created a federal rule to protect the privacy of individuals’ medical information. It states that health providers, insurers and other professional entities who handle personal health information must take increased measures to keep that information confidential and secure.

A medical entity may not use or disclose protected health information except as the privacy rule specifies or as the individual (or their legal representative) authorizes in writing. The privacy rule established a patient’s rights over their own health information and set limits on who can receive it.

What is protected:

  • All personal information contained within a patient’s medical record
  • Conversations/treatment notes a doctor shares with the patient’s care team
  • Electronic medical records
  • Medical billing information

Why Sign a HIPAA Authorization?

By signing a HIPAA authorization form, a senior can allow their caregiver access to important information about their care. A caregiver with full knowledge of their loved one’s comprehensive medical and treatment history can best ensure quality care decisions moving forward. The most important consideration in granting access to health records is twofold. Caregivers should be able to:

  1. communicate directly with a senior’s doctors to coordinate treatment and care between medical entities; and
  2. discuss and pay medical bills on the senior’s behalf.

A family caregiver may be restricted from the ability to effectively act on a senior’s behalf without these expressed permissions. The privacy rule restricts family members’ access to comprehensive medical information unless the family member has been named as a personal representative with a valid healthcare power of attorney (POA). If the person you are caring for has not drafted and signed a POA form, it is recommended that you encourage your loved one to sign a HIPAA release and keep copies on file. This will ensure there is no doubt that medical entities are allowed to communicate with you and any other family members your loved one has granted authorization.