Under U.S. Law, everyone's medical information is private and protected, but it can be shared under certain conditions.
An older adult can give family and friends permission to access their medical information. This can make it easier for the older adult:
To involve people in discussions with health professionals and in health decisions, including family members who live at a distance
To get help with managing medications or other health treatments
To make sure people helping with at-home care, special diets or other health tasks can get information directly from the older adult's health professionals
The law that spells out medical information privacy and access rules is called HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
Under HIPAA, health professionals can share an older adult's medical information with someone when:
The person is the older adult's healthcare proxy or medical power of attorney
The older adult has officially given the person permission to access their medical information
The older adult if present and agrees to share the information with the person
The older adult isn't able to agree, perhaps because they're unconscious, but the health professional decides it's in the older adult's best interest to share the information
Older adults can tell health professionals not to share their medical information, or not to share it with certain people.
Different healthcare facilities might have different forms or procedures for accessing a patient's medical information under HIPAA. Facilities often have a social worker, patient representative or privacy officer who can explain their process.