As students return to colleges and universities across the United States amid COVID-19 concerns, students, their parents and their families should ensure that arrangements for the student’s medical decision-making for an emergency are made. These arrangements will protect the student if they cannot make medical decisions for themselves and ensure that their loved ones will be entitled to receive protected Medical information. It is important, and often forgotten, that anyone over the age of 18 is legally an adult and can no longer rely on the legal authority of their parents as their legal guardian to help them make medical decisions.
Below is a list of steps that a student, their parents and their families returning to campus this fall should take to ensure the student’s family members can be contacted and can assist in a medical emergency:
Anyone 18 or older should complete a general Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Release and Authorization Form to pre-approve certain individuals to access protected health information. HIPAA generally will not allow family members to access the student’s protected health information unless they have given them authorization. A student can give authorization to as many people as they want. Giving someone authorization to access information under HIPAA does not give them any ability to make medical decisions for the student. It also does not require a finding of incapacity to become effective, so it can be a useful tool for when the student needs assistance communicating and understanding physicians but can still make the ultimate decisions for themselves.
Anyone 18 or older should appoint someone they trust to serve as their Health Care Agent by completing a Health Care Proxy (in New York State) or a similar form in another state. By appointing an Agent, the student ensures that the person they choose can step in to make medical decisions on their behalf if they cannot make them themselves. The alternative is to rely on whatever local laws say, and often the “default” decisions that can be made by “next-of-kin” are restricted.
Each state has a different set of laws and a different form for appointing a Health Care Agent and medical professionals in that state are used to looking at their own state’s specific form. For that reason, we recommend that students, their parents and their families prepare the appropriate document both for their home state and for the state where the student is attending school. Both the student and the designated Agent should keep a copy (physical and digital) of the document.
It may seem old-school, but we advise students to keep a hard copy “emergency contact list” somewhere that their roommate, Resident Advisor or friends will know to look. While the school will have an emergency contact on file, it can take far more time for word to reach family members through official channels. Students should also consider having a friend save their parent’s full contact information into their phone in case of emergency.
Our team stands ready to assist our clients and their families with these and other family-centered decisions. Please contact us for more information about how we can help you and your college student ensure their medical decisions will be in the correct hands.
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