A “HIPAA Release” Allows Loved Ones to Access Medical Information


Author: Attorney Catherine C. Orton


Imagine your loved one suffers a stroke, or is injured in an accident, and is rushed, unconscious, to a hospital in a nearby city for specialized treatment.

Of course, in this situation, you are nervous and anxious to know the patient’s condition, but the patient remains unconscious and cannot speak, and cannot consent to the release of medical information. Unfortunately, the HIPAA Law, even in an emergency, prevents doctors or nurses from releasing any information to anyone (other than the patient), denying information to the spouse and the immediate family.

What is the HIPAA Law?   Signed into law during the Clinton Administration, the law, formally known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”), was originally intended to modernize the flow of medical information and impose safeguards so patient information is protected against fraud, theft, and unauthorized release.  In addition, the law imposes confidentiality on medical employees, requires medical computers to have protective software and requires proper disposal of medical records, among other things.

While the original intent of the law is understandable, unfortunately, in practice, the HIPAA law has had very frustrating results for many families.  In the example above, a sudden medical emergency can leave the patient’s loved ones out in the cold.

The solution is a document, signed by the patient, which will give medical providers permission to speak with the patient’s designated individuals.  This document, called a “HIPAA Release” identifies the individuals (such as your spouse, children, and/or trusted friend) who can contact the medical providers and receive information about the patient’s condition.  The HIPAA Release does not give these individuals any decision-making power over health care, but it allows the loved ones to learn about the patient’s condition.

Many medical providers offer a HIPAA Release for surgical patients to sign before surgery, so the doctor can speak to loved ones following the surgery.  But, too often, these pre-printed hospital forms include an automatic expiration date.  When the Release expires, the patient and their family are back to square one:  no access to information.

Instead, as part of a comprehensive estate plan, the attorneys at the Curran Law Office draft a HIPAA Release which has no expiration date.  The HIPAA Release is signed, notarized, and put in the patient’s medical records along with their Health Care Power of Attorney.  Thus, whenever the patient suffers a medical issue, the HIPAA Release is already in place to provide loved ones with access to the patient’s medical information no matter where they are being treated.