Consumer Reports: Helping your college student in a medical emergency

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As a parent, there are few things worse than getting a call saying your young-adult child is being taken to the emergency room. (WLS)

As a parent, there are few things worse than getting a call saying your young-adult child is being taken to the emergency room.

Now imagine getting that call, but the doctors and nurses won't tell you anything about your child's condition.

Consumer Reports explained how privacy laws make that scary scenario very real for some parents and offers some simple steps you can take to prevent it.

As Arelis Corona's daughter, Kiara, heads back to college, Arelis will rest a little easier knowing Kiara has signed a medical authorization form. A simple yet significant document -- saying it's okay for doctors and nurses to share her daughter's medical information with her in an emergency.

"I mean yes, they're 18. They're considered adults. But I want her to be in the proper medical hands and I want to have a say in that," Arelis Corona said.

The privacy rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, says that once a child is legally an adult, which in most states is 18, parents have no more right to their child's medical information than they would to the information of a stranger on the street.

"It doesn't even matter whether your child is still on your health insurance or if you're paying the bills," Consumer Reports Money Editor Donna Rosato said.

Health experts at Consumer Reports said signing a simple document could help smooth things over.

"You're basically getting your child to sign the equivalent of a permission slip. Then, if there's an emergency, it helps eliminate any ambiguity," Rosato said.

Although you can find many versions online, there isn't one 'official' document called a HIPAA Authorization Form. They typically specify who can be given the medical information, the type of information that can be shared and the applicable dates.

"Some hospitals and college medical centers have their own forms. So if you know where your child is likely get health care, you might want to reach out to them in advance and ask," Rosato said.

Thinking about the unthinkable may help you better handle a crisis.

The best thing is for your child to carry the form tucked into a wallet or a backpack. But during an emergency, a parent forwarding a scanned copy may be enough to persuade a doctor or hospital to release the information.

All Consumer Reports material Copyright 2017 Consumer Reports, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Consumer Reports is a not-for-profit organization which accepts no advertising. It has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site. For more information visit consumer.org

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