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Have you signed a HIPAA release?

Imagine you suffer from a catastrophic health event. Maybe you have a stroke or you get into a car accident that leaves you unconscious and incapacitated. Your sister -- who is the closest person to you -- arrives at the hospital and asks the doctor about your condition and the doctor refuses to give her the information.

In refusing to disclose information, the doctor cites the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. He says to your sister, "I'm sorry. There's nothing I can do. You need to go to the court and get the proper authority before I can share your brother's medical information with you."

Your relatives can access your medical information with a HIPAA release

HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, safeguards the privacy of medical information pertaining to patients. Much like the principal of attorney-client privilege, in which a lawyer can't share your personal details with other people without your permission, HIPAA prevents doctors from sharing your medical data with others. While privacy is always good, HIPAA can present challenges in the event of an emergency.

Different hospitals treat HIPAA privacy differently. In some cases, hospitals and doctors are very strict and -- even if your named health care power of attorney tries to gain access to your medical information -- the medical provider won't share your medical records. This is why everyone should incorporate a HIPAA release into their estate planning. Your HIPAA release will designate a specific person to be your "HIPAA representative" with whom medical providers may share your vital information.

The HIPAA release permits doctors to discuss your medical situation with the person you specify. Often, your HIPAA representative will be the same person you name as the attorney in fact in your health care power of attorney documentation.

Consider signing up for a health care document security service

Health care document security services, like Docubank, are companies that safeguard all of your health care documents. The service costs under $50 per year and you'll receive a card that you can keep inside your wallet. This card will provide an ID number and phone number that medical providers can reach in order to receive (1) your complete medical records and (2) the person you've designated in your HIPAA release and power of attorney documentation to make decisions regarding your medical care.

There's no reason for things to be more difficult than they already are in the event that you become incapacitated. With the right kind of estate planning steps, you can make things easier on your loved ones.

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