Does a Power of Attorney Have the Right to View Medical Records?

by Teo Spengler

A person named in a medical power of attorney generally has broad authority to make all medical decisions for the incapacitated principal that the principal might have made himself were he competent. She must select doctors and medical facilities and approve or disapprove medical treatment. In her capacity as health-care agent, she has the right to review the principal's medical records.

Medical Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is a legal document used by a principal to appoint an agent to make decisions in her stead. Powers of attorney can be be financial or medical, the former conveying authority to make financial decisions for the principal; the latter conveying authority to make medical decisions. A power of attorney is referred to as "durable" if it remains in effect after the principal becomes incapacitated. Many people choose to make their medical powers of attorney durable to lay out who will be in charge of their medical care in case they become incapacitated.

Agent's General Authority

An agent's authority under a durable medical power of attorney can be as broad or as narrow as the principal chooses. Many such documents give the agent general authority to make health care decisions if the principal is incapable of giving informed consent. For example, a form offered by the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services grants the authority to include consent to any treatment, service or procedure to treat a physical or mental condition and to request, review and receive any information regarding the principal's physical or mental health, including medical and hospital records.

Limiting Agent's Authority

However, the general power given an agent is subject to any limitations the principal specifies in the document. She may list out those rights she does not wish an agent to exercise. It is also a common practice to describe in a medical power of attorney any decisions a principal has already made for future health care to guide the agent's decision making. For example, the principal might state in the document whether she wishes her life to be prolonged to the maximum extent possible or prefer to have life-sustaining equipment removed when her condition appears irreversible. The agent must act in accordance with the directive.

Medical Records

It would be a most unusual medical power of attorney that specifically denied an agent the authority to review medical records. The core purpose for the document is to authorize an agent to make health care decisions; to deny that agent the power to look at medical records defeats this purpose. Few principals would want an agent making uninformed medical decisions. For this reason, most medical powers of attorney give the agent the right to review the medical records of the principal.