Skip to main content

A Must For Parents of College Students

Before they head to campus, students who want a parent’s help managing a chronic health condition should take steps to get medical paperwork in order, experts say.

Three college students with suitcases and bins move into a dormitory.

When it comes to managing health conditions, the hand off from parent to child is often a gradual one. But once a college student turns 18, U.S. medical privacy rules snap into effect.

That means a student who wants a parent to have access to medical records, lab results and treatment plans will have to give them authorization through legal documents, such as a universal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) release form. And in the event a college student is incapacitated, a health care proxy must be in place for a parent to have standing in making medical decisions.

Experts say taking these two steps can save confusion and headaches later, especially for young people who have complex medical conditions like a rare disease.

Universal HIPAA Release Form

“When a child turns 18, they legally transition to adulthood, which means parents no longer automatically have the right to access their child's medical records due to HIPAA,” said Min Hwan Ahn, Attorney at the Law Office of Lally and Ahn in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

With a digital or paper copy of a universal HIPAA release form, the college student can designate a parent or both parents as trusted individuals who can access their medical information.

See the American Bar Association’s sample release form. 

It can be helpful for parents to have access to medical records if a college student needs help managing a condition or if they experience an acute flare-up at a university far from home.

“Parents might find themselves in a challenging spot, not being able to intervene medically because they are not privy to the child's full medical history,” Ahn said.

Health Care Proxy

It’s also a good idea for college students to have a health care proxy or health care power of attorney. The document helps in emergency situations because it designates someone to make medical decisions on the person’s behalf if they are unable to do so. In medical emergencies, having a health care proxy designated can help prevent delays in treatment, said Andrew Pickett, Lead Trial Attorney at Andrew Pickett Law in Melbourne, Florida.

But who should your child designate?

“The health care power of attorney should be someone close to the patient who is familiar with their wishes and medical history,” Pickett said. “They must understand the risks and benefits of any treatments or procedures that may need to be performed.”

The forms can vary state by state, so be sure the form you have will be valid in the state where your child attends college.

“Having clear legal documents is an essential step for any parent to take when their children turn 18 and go off to college, as it gives them peace of mind that they can access essential medical information if needed,” Pickett said.

Learn more about legal documents recommended for college students in this article from the Wall Street Journal: Before Your Child Goes to College, Complete These 6 Important Documents