Helping Children in a Medical Emergency

You receive a frantic phone call from your child’s college roommate. Your child- at college hundreds of miles away- is being rushed to the emergency room, after a serious car accident. You immediately phone the emergency room treating your child, inquiring about the situation. The nurse refuses to provide you any information. Why? Your child is over the age of 18, and thus the law considers your child a stranger to you (some states have different ages when a child is considered legally a stranger to the parents, but most states use age 18). In the absence of several documents that expressly permit the release of medical information, health care providers will not share that health information.

There are documents that can be prepared to prevent this sort of situation. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) generally makes your health information and records private. Thus, in the above example, the parents were unable to obtain information about their child due to HIPAA protections.

There are three forms that should be completed to prevent this problem. The first form that should be completed is a HIPAA authorization. Completing a HIPAA authorization allows the parents (or anyone else stated) to obtain medical and health information about the child. In the above example, if the child had completed a HIPAA authorization granting permission for his/her parents to obtain their medical information, the ER treating the child would likely provide medical information regarding treatment, diagnoses, etc.

A Durable Power of Attorney-Medical (Medical DPOA) allows an agent- someone acting on the behalf of someone else- to make medical decisions. In conjunction with the Medical DPOA, a child should draft medical directives. These are directives to health care providers about what care the child wants if the child should end up in a persistent vegetative state or something similar. The agent appointed by the Medical DPOA can present the medical directives to the health care team in the unfortunate event that the child has very serious injuries and the likelihood of recovery is slim, and/or the likelihood of a good quality of life even if the child recovered is very low. A Medical DPOA agent should still be nominated, even in the absence of medical directives. This agent- typically a parent in this instance- would make decisions on their child’s behalf when the child is unable to do so, and is bound by the constraints and directions stated in the Medical DPOA document.

Some additional recommendations involve out-of-state children. For example, if the parents reside in Michigan but their child is going to school out of state, the family should complete the above documents for both Michigan and the state where the child is going to school. Additionally, some colleges have their own versions of these documents, so be sure to complete the school-specific documents as well. Ensure that the documents are readily accessible, and even have the child provide these documents to treating physicians such as a primary-care doctor.

The medical and health care aspect is a critical element of a good estate plan. To review an estate plan or begin the process of a new estate plan, please contact Benjamin Long of Schmidt and Long.