Young Adults and the Right to Medical Record Privacy

By Briana Vannozzi

With a long to do list checked off, Amy Posyton thought she was set, ready to send her son off to his first year of college.

“You know when you’re packing up the first aid kit and everything you think your child will need to be safe. This is something that never dawned on me,” she said.

He had a medical emergency on campus — four hours from home. An RA called late at night, but when Posyton dialed the hospital she was shocked to discover she had no right to gather information about her 18-year-old’s health.

“I was told by the nurse there that she could not disclose any information to me. I explained to her that I was his mother. I was worried sick. And I didn’t know if I could come down, if he was in any kind of imminent danger,” Posyton said.

“When you turn 18 you get a lot of different rights and one is privacy, at least with regard to your medical records under HIPAA,” attorney Travis Scales said.

HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. First passed in 1996 to set up national standards for protecting patient medical records and create a standard for information sharing across health care providers.

“I wasn’t as upset that he was in the hospital it was the fact that I did not know what what happened to him. I mean this kid could have been dead. This is my son, this is my child,” said Posyton.

Scales says most parents don’t realize the law takes effect until a similar, unfortunate situation occurs.

“There is a way around it and it’s pretty simple. All you have to do is have your child give you a HIPAA authorization. If your child gives you HIPAA authorization, it can be limited in scope but generally all you have to do is provide access to all of your medical records and the right to speak with doctors,” Scales said.

His law office encourages it. Without authorization, a parent or guardian has little right to make decisions or get information should the student be incapacitated.

According to the CDC there were over 22 million emergency room visits by young adults ages 15- to 24 years-old in 2011. And it’s less likely to be from an injury or drinking as one might suspect. The National Institute of Mental Health reports 20 percent of children age 13 to 18 have had or have a mental disorder.

“So its actually much more likely that your young adult child off at college could experience a mental health issue and that would be a situation where you would really want this in place,” said Scales.

“To go through that, I don’t wish that on any parent. I really don’t wish it on any parent,” Posyton said.

Lesson learned — and she hopes one saved — for another parent.