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Who can access your health care information?

There are some things in life that you simply want to keep private. Your health and medical information are likely some of those things. Thankfully, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 ensures that you have the right to keep your personal medical information private.

However, what happens in an emergency? Who can access your medical information then?

What to know about HIPAA

The Privacy Rule under HIPAA specifically states that your healthcare records will remain private, with limited access. This means that only you – or a medical professional providing your care – can access and review your medical records, including:

  • Your medical history
  • Conversations you have had with medical providers
  • Treatments you have received
  • Personal information from your health insurance company
  • Billing information about you

However, the rule does allow your medical provider to speak to your spouse or family about your health condition.

These rules can be obstacles for many people

The exception to the Privacy Rule allowing spouses and family members access to your medical information does not help everyone. For example:

  • Recent studies report that nearly half of California adults are unmarried, or do not plan to get married;
  • Additionally, their family members might not live close enough to respond in the event of a medical emergency; and
  • Many people might not be close to their families either.

What happens in these cases?

Health care agents can access your medical information

Generally, medical providers can only share your medical information with your spouse or family members – unless you designate someone to be your agent through a power of attorney for health care.

Your family does not have to be the default in these situations, as long as you take time to plan. If you designate a significant other – who is not your spouse – or a trusted friend as your agent, then they will be able to access your medical information, speak with your health care providers and ensure you get the proper medical care you need.

Preparing for emergencies is not something many people want to do, but it is critical. And one of the estate planning measures that all individuals should consider is ensuring that someone will be able to speak for you and make decisions on your behalf in the event that you are incapacitated.

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