When a medical emergency arises for one of our children, we seek to gain as much information about the situation as possible. We want to know the ‘wheres, hows, and whys’ of medical issues so that we can best take care of our loved ones now and protect them from future calamities tomorrow. For young children, parental medical information access is often not an issue. As the parent or primary caretaker information is often communicated directly to you.
As children age into young adults and are able to begin making their own healthcare decisions, medical information may not be as readily available. Because of this, it is important to understand the boundaries of parental medical information access.
When you’re in the know
Most parents excel at identifying illness in their children and asking the right questions of their doctors or, more and more frequently, their nurse practitioners regarding their child’s health. For the most part, as long as the child is a minor, they will be privy to the answers. Especially for children that haven’t reached their teenage years, parents will be told directly of information regarding:
- Prescriptions and
- Appointment scheduling
If you are calling or emailing medical offices rather than meeting in person, gaining access to information may require jumping through a few hoops such as verification of identity and relationship to the patient. These are just a few of many checks in place to help healthcare providers stay in compliance with HIPPA. Ultimately, they help to ensure that your child’s personal medical information isn’t given to just anybody.
… and when you’re not
There are, however, a number of potential barriers to gaining healthcare information regarding your children in certain situations. For instance, if state laws indicate that the child has the right to ask medical practitioners to withhold medical information from their parents. In certain states this control over personal medical records and decisions can begin as young as 12 years old! In these situations, young adults can sign waivers that give parental medical information access to certain parts of their medical records.
The majority of states do not have such restrictive measures on parental medical information access, but a number of them have at least some. This information protection most commonly comes into play in medical visits regarding sexual activity or illegal substance abuse. In such cases, parents may not even be alerted that their child has visited a physician, let alone notified of any diagnoses or treatment plans.
Reasons for Limited Parental Medical Information Access
Many parents that are still footing the bill for their children’s medical expenses, find this reduction in access insane. They struggle to understand what their child is going through and are not sure how to help. But there are a number of reasons these limitations exist.
For instance, multiple national surveys have indicated that over a quarter of middle and high school students in the US will not seek medical treatment that they need for fear of their parents finding out and reacting adversely. In situations such as sexually transmitted diseases or alcohol abuse, not seeking treatment for these reasons can have severe long-term consequences. States that support this type of information protection recognize that without guaranteed confidentiality many serious cases would go untreated.
Outstanding lawsuits are an additional reason for limited access to a minor’s private medical information. For example, if a minor is directed to seek medical treatment by a court of law, parents will most likely not be granted access to healthcare information. These decisions are typically made for the protection of the minor or in order to conserve evidence to be used in trial.
Relinquishing some access to medical information can be a challenge for many parents. In some cases, it feels cumbersome to get information or can be detrimental if young adults are not rising to the responsibility of caring for their health. Luckily, there are typically avenues – such as consent forms – out there that enable parents to still play an important role in helping their child make significant medical decisions.