How to Get Information when Your Adult Family Member or Friend is Hospitalized

Your unmarried, adult child has just been injured in an accident. You know what hospital he’s at, but the hospital refuses to give you any information about how your child is doing, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Their decision to err on the side of caution and keep their patient’s medical information confidential, however, is leaving you in the dark. How do you get them to tell you what’s going on?

One guaranteed way to have access to the information is to have Healthcare Power of Attorney for your friend or family member. This is something you need to do in advance so you’ll have the document legally filed, but it’s fairly simple, and it ensures that you’re involved and informed. A person with Healthcare Power of Attorney can also make medical decisions for the patient if the patient is unable to communicate or otherwise unable to make a decision.

If you don’t have Healthcare Power of Attorney, the Code of Federal Regulations can help. In Title 45 of the Code, Sections 164.508 and 164.510 describe the boundaries of what information the hospital can give you, without violating HIPAA. The first concerns information that needs to be authorized by the patient; under this section, you are prohibited from accessing psychotherapy notes about your friend or family member (with some rare exceptions). The rest concerns marketing and the sale of protected health information, which probably will not concern you.

The meat of what you need to know lies in Section 164.510. Under this section, unless the patient has been given the opportunity to object and has done so, you can ask for their location in the hospital and condition, so long as you ask for the patient by name. If the patient never had the opportunity to object, and is incapacitated or in an emergency situation, you may still obtain information about their location and condition if their health care provider, in their professional judgment, thinks that it’s in the patient’s best interest to inform you.

Now you have their location and condition. What next? If you’re a family member, other relative, or close personal friend, or someone the patient told the hospital about beforehand, you’re entitled to know all information directly relevant to your involvement with the patient’s care, relevant to paying for the patient’s care, or relevant to notifying others that the patient is in the hospital. Furthermore, if the care provider, using their professional judgment, thinks it’s in the patient’s best interest, they can allow you to pick up the patient’s filled prescriptions, medical supplies, X-rays, or other similar forms of protected health information.

A hospital can also disclose health information to assist with disaster relief efforts; you are eligible to access directly relevant information if you are a family member, other relative, or close personal friend, or someone the patient informed the hospital about beforehand. You won’t have to break through any red tape to get information that could help the patient in a disaster.

Finally, if the worst happens, and your friend or relative passes away, the health care provider may disclose to you that they have died, unless the patient requested otherwise while they were alive.

It’s hard to keep a cool head when emergency strikes, but try your best to stay calm and rational as you inform the hospital of what information they can disclose to you. It will help to carry proof of your Healthcare Power of Attorney, or failing that, a list of the things you can access, with the relevant section of the Code written down on it (45 C.F.R. 264.510). If you don’t have proof of your Healthcare Power of Attorney, you’re not guaranteed to get the answers you want—or any answers, for that matter. Just remember that they’re doing their best to help the patient, and that’s what matters, whether they think they can tell you more or not.

If you have questions on how to get information when an adult family member or friend is hospitalized, please feel free to contact Alex Blackwell  at Denton Law Firm located in Paducah, KY. (270) 450-8253.


DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Moreover, this information provided herein is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship, and receipt of the information provided herein does not create an attorney-client relationship.