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Health & Safety

Are You Ready for Your College Student's Medical Emergency?

Guest Contributor

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By Karen Curtiss, Founder of The Care Partner Project

You packed your student off for their freshman year of college with all the comforts of home: sheets for the extra-long twin bed, towels, toiletries, a laptop and maybe a popcorn popper or microwave.

And hopefully that first semester is going well, and you’re looking forward to Thanksgiving break. But what if something doesn’t go well, and your student lands in the student health center, or even the emergency room? Would you know what to do and what your rights are?

Whether your student is already in college or you’re planning for next year, a few simple preparations can ensure that you will be able not only to find out what’s going on with your child but also direct care if necessary.

18 Is the Magic Number

When your child turns 18, they are an adult in the eyes of the law, even if they are still financially dependent. Legally, they have become a stranger to their parents.

Student health systems, hospitals and healthcare providers are forbidden to share healthcare information with parents without the student’s consent. And that is true even if your student is still on your health insurance or you are paying the bills.

A healthcare provider may agree to share information if it’s in the best interest of the patient. However, most will come down on the side of patient privacy as specified in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Verbal consent works, but what if your child is unconscious?

Be Prepared With These 3 Forms

Before your child heads off to college (or goes back to school after Thanksgiving break), make sure you do these three things.

1. Download a HIPAA release form for your student to complete and sign.

It’s important to use the form for the state where your student attends college. Do an internet search for “HIPAA release for x state,” and you should find the correct form on an official government website. Be sure to check the URL (website address) to make sure you’re on the state government website.

2. Prepare a Medical Power of Attorney (MPOA) for your student to sign.

With this form, your child is appointing you as their “agent” to make medical decisions on their behalf in case they are incapacitated. In some states, the HIPAA release is part of the MPOA, so do the research for the state where your student goes to college. In addition, some colleges and universities require their own MPOA. Rules surrounding notarizations and witnesses for the MPOA vary by state.

Medical powers of attorney go by other names, such as healthcare proxy and durable power of attorney for health care.

3. Prepare a Durable Power of Attorney for your student to sign.

This is particularly important if your student attends college across the country or overseas. This will enable a parent — or other trusted agent — to take care of the student’s business on their behalf.

The agents, for example, would be able to sign tax forms and access bank accounts, so assign power of attorney to someone you trust. Again, forms vary by state, and these usually must be witnessed and notarized.

What to Do With the Forms

After these forms are executed, scan them so they are available digitally (in case they need to be emailed) and make three paper copies: one for the student healthcare office at your child’s school, one for your child and one for yourself.

Worried about your student keeping track of paper forms? Suggest they snap photos of them on their phones and store them with ICE (in case of emergency) contacts.

With these forms in hand, you will have the legal authority you need to take care of your child, whether they are attending college across town or across the country.

Help Your Students Take Care of Themselves, Too

Empower your student to take care of their own health with these tips:

  1. Get a physical examination before heading off to school (winter break is also a good time for check-ups and dental appointments).
  2. Know where your insurance card is; snap a photo of it and keep it on your phone.
  3. Make sure vaccinations are up to date. Many colleges require COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters. A seasonal flu shot is always a good idea.
  4. Get acquainted with the student health center. Find out if student health will provide a primary care physician or if you will need to identify one yourself.
  5. Keep emergency numbers handy in your phone: student health center, campus security, nearest pharmacy, urgent care, hospital, etc.
  6. Put together a first-aid kit for minor injuries and illnesses.
  7. Keep health checklists handy, like those offered for free at the Care Partner Project.

I hope your student stays safe and well at college! But you’ll give yourself peace of mind by preparing for the unexpected medical emergency.

Karen Curtiss is the founder of The Care Partner Project, a not-for-profit that offers free health checklists for families and no-cost patient advocacy services for those in extreme need. Visit to download checklists, apply for advocacy services, or support the non-profit with a donation.
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