Gregory S. DuPont
Privacy Rules Emphasize Importance of Advance Medical Directives
Stringent new privacy rules make it important that you consider advance medical directives to help direct your future health care. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy regulations; doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers may no longer discuss health or treatment programs with a spouse, children, or other family members without a signed consent form from the patient. In other words, without written consent, even the closest family members will be unable to obtain information on your medical condition.
Few exceptions to this restricted access exist. Access may be allowed without written consent in an emergency situation or where the patient is incapacitated. However, the decision will be up to the physician and there is no guarantee that he or she will permit a breach of privacy.
Living Wills and Health Care Proxies
There are legal steps you can take to help ensure your wishes are met, including appointing those you would like involved in your health care decisions and specifying the types of care you would like to have provided or withheld. Advance medical directives are legal instructions that express your wishes regarding health care decisions in the event you become unable to make them. For health care purposes, a general power of attorney for financial matters will not be sufficient.
There are two important types of advance medical directives to consider: living wills and health care proxies. A health care proxy, also known as a durable power of attorney for health care or a durable medical power of attorney, allows you to appoint someone to make medical decisions on your behalf. A living will sets forth your preferences for treatment in the event you become unable to direct care. The requirements for each advance medical directive vary by state.
In addition to providing access to your health information, these legal steps will help direct the course of your future care according to your wishes. A health care proxy is particularly useful for seniors who may fear cognitive impairments in the closing stages of life, as well as for those who face debilitating or degenerative diseases and medical treatments that might render them temporarily or permanently incapacitated. In the event of a terminal illness or life-threatening condition, a living will states a person’s instructions for treatment, such as whether or not certain life-sustaining measures should be taken. These advance directives take effect only when a patient is unable to make health care decisions.
To draft your advance directives, consult your attorney or legal professional. As always, it is important to discuss your preferences for care with your loved ones and health care professionals. Open communication and involvement today can help ease the decision-making process in the future.