What healthcare documents do you need at each life stage?

June 23, 2020 in Family Caregiving  •  By Miles Varn, MD
healthcare documents

If your 19-year-old college student ended up in the hospital, would you be able to get the information you need about her condition from the doctors treating her? What if your parents were having trouble managing multiple doctor’s appointments? If your spouse or partner had a heart attack, would you be able to make medical decisions on his or her behalf?

The key is to have the essential healthcare documents you need to be part of the medical decision-making process completed and easily accessible.

What you need when you have young adult children

Once your children reach the age of majority, you may not be able to be part of their medical decisions, even if they’re still on your health insurance, live with you, or can be claimed as a dependent on your taxes.

To ensure you can still be part of these important decisions, there are four healthcare documents you need:

  • HIPAA release or authorization: This allows healthcare providers to release medical information to anyone your child specifies on the form. If your child is concerned about sharing certain types of medical information, he or she has the option to limit what types of information can be shared. If your child will be attending school or living in another state, find out if there’s a state-specific HIPAA authorization. Some colleges and universities also offer the appropriate forms on their websites.
  • Medical power of attorney: This form, also known as healthcare power of attorney, designation of healthcare proxy, or durable power of attorney for healthcare, allows your child to choose an agent to make medical decisions if he or she cannot. If your child is living or attending school in another state, consider completing a form for both states.
  • Comprehensive medical record: Having a comprehensive medical record that includes all current and past diagnoses, surgeries, treatments, diagnostic test results, family medical history, and a list of current medications can provide any physician who treats your child with important information that can lower the risk of misdiagnosis and medical errors.
  • Durable power of attorney: A durable power of attorney allows you to make financial decisions on your child’s behalf, pay bills, and access financial information. If your child is not on your family health insurance plan, this document will allow you to talk with their health insurer about claims. It also allows you to get information from a hospital or healthcare provider’s billing department.

What you need for your spouse, partner, or parents

There are seven healthcare documents you’ll need to access your spouse, partner, or parents’ medical information and related financial information:

  • HIPAA authorization: If there are certain types of information your spouse, partner, or parents don’t wish to share, they can indicate that on the form. In the case of spouses, if one spouse is incapacitated, the other does not need HIPAA authorization.
  • Advance directive: An advance directive, also called a living will, outlines what types of medical care you do and do not want if you are dying or not expected to regain consciousness and under what circumstances these decisions should be applied.
  • Durable power of attorney for healthcare: This indicates who you would like to be responsible for making medical decisions on your behalf, known as a healthcare proxy. Your spouse, partner, or parents can indicate whether they would like their proxy to be able to make all medical decisions or just specific ones.
  • Durable power of attorney: A durable power of attorney allows you to make financial decisions, pay bills, and access financial information, including talking with health insurers, long-term care insurance providers, and hospital and healthcare provider’s billing departments.
  • Complete medical records: An up-to-date, easily accessible, comprehensive medical record is especially important if your spouse, partner, or parents see several specialists in addition to their primary care doctor. Their medical record can help make sure key information is available to everyone who treats them and can lower the risk of overtreatment, duplicate diagnostic testing, and prescription drug interactions or the prescription of duplicate or no longer needed medications.
  • Medicare, supplemental, and long-term care insurance policy information: You need policy numbers and customer service phone numbers so you can review coverage, file, check, and dispute claims, and pay premiums on your spouse, partner, or parents’ behalf.
  • Letter of instruction: This document details end of life wishes, for example funeral and/or memorial service arrangements and organ and tissue donation. It also often includes important financial information such as the location of the will and any safe deposit boxes, bank, investment, and retirement account locations and numbers, PIN numbers and passwords for banking and investing accounts, life insurance information, and a list of financial and legal advisors’ contact information.


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