5 On Your Side

Family members need to plan medical care in case of accident

Posted April 18
Updated April 19

— Rae Stone learned firsthand the need to discuss medical decisions with family members before it's too late.

Six years ago, a snowboarding accident left Stone's son, Forrest Allen, in a coma and on a ventilator.

"They told us we should prepare for him not to wake up from his coma. I'm like, how do you prepare for that?" Stone said recently.

Even though Allen was on his parent's insurance, they had no control over his medical decisions because he was 18 at the time. He was considered an adult, so under HIPAA, the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, his medical issues were confidential and couldn't be shared with his parents. And because he couldn't speak for himself, Allen's doctors were in charge of all medical decisions.

"While he was still in a coma, we had to hire an attorney, come back to our county, appear in court, have essentially a mini-trial," Stone said of her attempt to be named her son's guardian and regain the right to make medical decisions for him.

"The court-appointed guardian had to read him this document that says, 'Do you have any objection to giving up your legal rights to vote? Or to drive or to own property?'" she said. "That's a terrible thing to hear. He couldn't understand it, but he couldn't object."

Wednesday marks National Healthcare Decisions Day, which is aimed at getting people to talk about what medical care they want if something happens and they can't communicate.

Three signed forms are needed to control the medical decisions for a loved one:

  • A HIPAA authorization allows health care providers to share information with a designated person.
  • A medical power of attorney lets an adult child name a parent to make necessary decisions.
  • A durable power of attorney also gives that parent control over the child's financial affairs.

After 29 surgeries and extensive rehabilitation from his traumatic brain injury, Allen now mentors young people who've had similar injuries, and he went to the Boston Marathon this week to raise money for music therapy program for TBI patients.

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