Physician Practice

Q&A: You've got questions! We've got answers!

Physician Practice Insider, February 23, 2016

Submit your questions to Associate Editor Nicole Votta at and we will work with our experts to provide you with the information you need.

Q: Does the healthcare proxy have automatic access to the records of the patient he or she is a proxy of as long as we have the healthcare proxy document on file?

A: It depends on the proxy document the patient has signed. Some EHRs offer patients the ability to access a subset of their medical record information online and patients can sign a proxy document to give others (e.g., a spouse) the right to access their online record. In such a case, the proxy is valid unless revoked, so the designated proxy could access the patient’s online information as long as the patient has not revoked his or her proxy.

Frequently, a patient designates a healthcare agent or proxy under state law. The agent has specific powers that are prescribed by law, so it’s important to review your state law for details. Sometimes, an attorney will draw up a detailed document for a general power of attorney or healthcare power of attorney that will give the agent additional powers or limit those powers, so you’ll need to review the specific document signed by the patient as well.

Generally, a healthcare agent’s power becomes effective when the patient is unable to make decisions for him or herself. A competent adult patient makes his or her own treatment decisions and should be asked to give written authorization to release his or her medical records to another person. If the patient is unable to make his or her own decisions (as determined by a physician), the designated healthcare agent then has the power to make decisions for the patient and can access his or her medical records.
In many states, a general power of attorney is much broader than a healthcare power of attorney and may give the agent the right to make financial decisions, access records, and do whatever the individual could do for him or herself. Your organization is not obligated to accept a general power of attorney if you don’t feel it offers sufficient protections.

Editor’s note: Mary Brandt, MBA, RHIA, CHE, CHPS, answered this question for HCPro’s Briefings on HIPAA newsletter. This information does not constitute legal advice. Consult legal counsel for answers to specific privacy and security questions.

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