How can I get access to my mother's medical records?
April 17, 2014 2:15 PM Subscribe
My mother suffers from several serious medical conditions and sees a variety of specialists - some quarterly, some annually, and some only when she has a flare-up or episode. Several of these conditions, and/or the medications that treat them, impact her mental functioning. Every time she sees a doctor and I talk to her, I get the distinct impressions that she either hasn't given the doctor an accurate picture of what's going on with her, that she doesn't understand or remember what the doctor said, or both. I'd like to help her out by taking a look at her records and speaking with her doctors to make sure she's getting the treatment she needs and that it's being properly coordinated to account for her multiple conditions and multiple doctors.
My father, while generally helpful, is simply at the point that he's overwhelmed with the effort it takes to keep up with her - making sure she doesn't fall down, keeping her on the right schedule for her medications, etc. He's also somewhat of a know-it-all, so even at the doctor's office he won't ask detailed questions about her treatment because he thinks wikipedia and WebMD make him just as knowledgeable as the medical specialists who have dealt with these conditions for decades. So getting information out of him can be hit-or-miss as to whether it's coming from the doctor or from his own "expertise" - not to mention that he may or may not actually be giving the doctors complete and accurate information about my mother's symptoms. So the problem goes both ways there.
This is all complicated by the fact that I live several states away from my parents, so I can't simply attend all of these appointments with my parents. I understand if I was there in person with my mother, the doctor would have no problem answering my questions. But since I'm not... what to do?
I know I need some sort of release signed by my mother. Despite her reduced mental faculties, she's not so bad off (yet) that she needs someone else to fully make her decisions for her - but as her (only) child I feel that I'm in the best position to actually look at both the big picture and the details and help her advocate for the most effective treatments instead of just blindly following the doctors' advice. This isn't to say I think her doctors are doing anything wrong, or that I intend on second-guessing them every step of the way - just that I think medical treatment should be a two-way conversation between the provider and the patient but in this case the conversation seems more than a bit one-sided due to the issues I mentioned above.
Since my dad is still around and not incapacitated, I'm certain I wouldn't be her choice for a health care proxy, surrogate, or power of attorney - and I think those options are all overkill for my purposes anyway.
I assume there are more standard release forms that would just give permission for the doctors to speak with me and share her records, right? Is there one form I can find online and use, and provide copies to all of her doctors, or will each hospital and doctor's practice insist that I get her to sign their own in-house form? I found a lot online about HIPAA, but I'm not another medical provider or insurance provider, so I'm not even sure those regulations apply to me as a private third party family member. I'd prefer one form that I can ask her to sign once in person when I visit, then make copies and mail them to her doctors later. Tracking down and requesting separate forms from each office or hospital where she gets treated would be more burdensome so I'd like to avoid that if possible.
Once I've gotten her to sign a release and filed it with a provider, how do I get the information I want? I don't think a copy of her file would give me all the answers I want, though it might be a good start. Would they mail or scan me a copy, or can they insist that I appear in person to get it? I'd probably need to have one or more conversations with each doctor to get the full picture of her conditions and treatment plans - but unlike an appointment with my mother, they wouldn't get paid to have a 20 minute conversation with me. So how can I make this happen?
Any help you can provide will be appreciated - whether it's just the nuts and bolts of getting the proper release form, or the right way to get myself on a doctor's schedule to have the conversations. Thanks.