This document allows family members to access your medical care information

Your medical privacy is a right that’s protected by law. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA (with one P and two A’s), prevents your healthcare providers from releasing your medical information to anyone not directly involved in your medical care.

This is an incredibly useful law that protects you from breaches of your privacy — but it can also become a bit of a pain if you're very ill and a loved one is trying to get information so they can help you manage your care. They can come up against the same brick wall that protects you from unwanted intrusions, even if you would absolutely want your loved one to get the information they need.

You can open a door in that brick wall for your loved one by signing a HIPAA release form that authorizes him or her to receive information about your health.

3 Reasons to Plan a Funeral in Advance

It's a very simple form that you can download and quickly fill out. At its most basic, it just requires you to add your own name and the names of any loved ones you want to authorize to receive your health information if needed. You sign and date it, and it's valid.

You can also choose a slightly more detailed version if you want to allow some of your healthcare information to be disclosed to your loved one, but not all. For example, if you don't want them to know about some specific condition that’s part of your health history, but you do want them to be able to access any of your other health information related to terminal care, you can specify what information you forbid to be disclosed to them. (Then, anything else in your medical history would be fair game if you don't specify it.)

It's up to you who is authorized to access your health information, but you should certainly consider choosing the person who is closest to you and most likely to be your primary caregiver in the event of your serious illness, such as your spouse. You may also wish to authorize additional people, such as your children, siblings, or parents, if it's important to you that they be able to access your information.

Once you have completed your HIPAA release, signed and dated it, you should file copies of it with each of your healthcare providers. You can also file a copy with any health insurance providers, allowing your loved one to deal with them on your behalf if necessary. The HIPAA release form is only useful if the people who need the information have it.

If you're not currently ill, it might not feel very urgent to fill out a HIPAA release, but it's worth having on file in case of an unexpected emergency. You can always change it in the future if your situation or relationships change. If that does happen, be sure you file updated copies with any providers who have it.