Many aging parents and caregivers have heard of HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) but many have only a vague understanding of what this legislation is. Passed into law in 1996, HIPAA has several functions, but one of its most important is to make sure that a person’s health information is not shared inappropriately.
The Privacy Rule
The section of HIPAA that protects the health information of individuals, including aging parents, is called the Privacy Rule. This sets out what information a healthcare professional can share about a patient and with whom.
For example, many people would not want their information shared with a pharmaceutical company, which might result in them receiving junk mail or unwanted emails inviting them to try a product. Or they may feel uncomfortable with a condition that afflicts them and so don’t want doctors or nurses discussing their case in a waiting room full of people.
Aging Parents and Caregivers
The Privacy Rule is a valuable and necessary component of HIPAA. However, it can present some issues when aging parents or other seniors are being tended to by caregivers (whether family members or hired professionals). If caregivers are responsible for dispensing a patient’s medication, or if the caregivers can provide information on a patient’s condition that could be valuable, they need to be able to communicate with the healthcare provider.
In order for providers to be able to have an open communication with the caregivers, they need to have the permission of the patient (assuming the patient is capable of giving this permission). For some, an oral communication (such as the patient saying, “Sure, we can talk about this with my daughter”) is all that is needed. In some cases, however, a provider or their practice or hospital may require a written authorization.
Is this just too much red tape? It may seem so, but knowing the exact boundaries or how the information can be shared is ultimately in the best interests of all concerned.
Aging parents and other seniors should decide exactly what information they think should be shared with their caregivers and should then communicate their desire to their healthcare providers. And it’s probably a good idea to let the caregivers know as well, to avoid any awkward moments at the doctor’s office.