In case of emergency

Helen Hansen

If you were comatose in a hospital, wouldn’t you want your parents to know? Alarmingly, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) prevents hospitals from releasing any information about a patient’s condition to anyone if he or she is 18 years or older, including parents, unless the patient has signed a HIPAA authorization and Medical Power of Attorney document. This form allows the patient’s parents or former guardian to access medical information about you.

Giving your parents HIPAA authorization and Medical Power of Attorney lets them make health decisions for you if you are incapacitated. Your parents will be able to decide such important things such as whether to take you off life support or continue life-sustaining measures. J. Raymond Schiflett, the director of Legal Services for Students, encourages all students to sign a Medical Power of Attorney appointing someone as their agent, preferably someone near Austin, calling the protection “common sense.”

However, there is little to no information about HIPAA authorizations and Medical Power of Attorney forms given to UT students. The information and help about the Medical Power of Attorney form is there if students actively look for it at Legal Services for Students — which does not do HIPAA authorizations — but very few undergraduate students know that they need to look. Schiflett estimates that the office does about 50 will signings a year, but most are for graduate students with a spouse and children.

During orientation, the Dean of Students Office should conduct a short information session for undergraduate students and parents about these precautionary documents and the safety they promote. At the very least, a brightly colored flyer alerting students and parents to these headache-avoiding documents should be included in students’ orientation packets.

When my parents had me sign all these documents last week, I wondered, “Why have I never been told about any of this before?” By not introducing such important legal measures to us, the University does students a serious disservice. Get these documents drawn up. You could save your parents an unnecessary legal headache later on, and you will ensure that you always have your parents to represent you in the chance that you cannot represent yourself. Peace of mind is at least worth a trip to the Legal Services for Students office.

Hansen is a Plan II and public relations freshman.