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Understanding senior care rights under HIPAA

by Shannon Lee

HIPAA is an important part of the medical care system. Understanding your rights under HIPAA can make it easier for adult children and caregivers to make the best decisions for elderly loved ones.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, better known as HIPAA, was designed to give patients greater control over their medical information and disclosure. Understanding HIPAA is very important for seniors and their adult caregivers.

Why is HIPAA Important?

The HIPAA Privacy Rule is meant to protect personal health information. It also allows patients to know how their medical information is used. Some specific aims of HIPPA include:

  • Offers patients more control over what happens to their health information
  • Limits the amount of heath information released to the minimum required
  • Allows patients to request corrections to their health information
  • Gives patients the opportunity to learn who has accessed their medical records
  • Sets boundaries for providers and health care facilities on what information can be disclosed
  • Holds offenders accountable if patient rights are violated
  • Allows release of information in the event of a threat to public health

Adult Children and HIPAA: What You Should Know

The HIPAA Privacy Rule does allow doctors and other medical personnel to share information about a person's medical condition with their adult children, friends, or caregivers, assuming the patient does not object. A senior can provide authorization for their loved ones or caregivers to have access to their medical records and participate in doctor's visits. If an individual invites their adult children to a doctor's appointment, the doctor knows that the patient wants their children to know about and understand their medical condition.

However, if the patient can't make their wishes clear, HIPAA allows the doctor to make a judgment call on who to discuss the information with, based on what he or she believes is in the patient's best interest. This means that usually, an adult child or caregiver should be able to learn about their parent's medical condition.

However, to be absolutely certain of access to an elderly parent's medical records and care, putting the directive in writing is always a good idea.

Understanding HIPAA

The language of the HIPAA Privacy Rule can be challenging for many people to understand. The long and complicated sentences of the law, including the legal jargon and uncommon words, can lead to a misunderstanding of the text. To remedy this problem, ask your health care provider to explain the HIPAA laws in plain, simple language. Take notes, and don't hesitate to ask for clarification on sections you don't understand.

Remember that HIPAA was designed to protect and benefit the patient, so take the time to learn exactly what your rights are. In an emergency medical situation, knowing what HIPAA means could make a difference in your decisions concerning information and treatment.