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VERIFY: Yes, parents generally have a right to their minor child's medical records, but there are exceptions under federal and Georgia law

According to HIPAA, parents are generally allowed access to their minor child's medical records, but there are exceptions.

ATLANTA — As 11Alive continues to track a rise in Covid-19 cases in kids, the Verify team is tracking your questions: do parents have a right to see their children's medical records? 

Some like Emily have been talking about this very issue online, and the answer can be more complicated than you think.

"As far as I knew I had access until my child turned 18," Emily shared with 11Alive after running into hurdles trying to access her 15-year-old's medical records. 

THE QUESTION

Do parents have a right to their child's medical records in the state of Georgia?

THE ANSWER

In most situations in Georgia, parents and legal guardians have access to their minor child's medical records, but there are exceptions.

THE SOURCES

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

The Medical Association of Georgia

Angela Burnette, an Atlanta-based attorney specializing in health care and privacy law at Alston & Bird

WHAT WE KNOW

According to HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, parents are generally allowed access to their minor child's medical records.

But there are some exceptions under the federal privacy law such as "when the minor obtains care at the direction of a court or a person appointed by the court" or "when, and to the extent that, the parent agrees that the minor and the health care provider may have a confidential relationship."

There are also times that federal law defers to state law, for instance when the minor is able to consent to care without parental consent. 

"HIPAA is a federal privacy law that applies in all 50 states, but it sets up a floor for privacy protection, and HIPAA specifically defers to state laws, which allow a minor to obtain certain health care services without a parent or guardian," attorney Angela Burnette explained. "And in those special instances, the minor controls the privacy rights to that information."

Burnette said there are two notable exceptions that can impact a parent's access to their child's medical records. 

"First under federal and Georgia law, a minor who's 12 or older can present to a doctor or hospital for assessment of alcohol or substance abuse... without a recording of consent," Burnette said.

Such laws, Burnette explained, are intended to encourage young people to seek help, and such records pertaining to observation or diagnosis typically stay private unless the minor authorizes their release.

"And then second, in Georgia, a minor under 18 can seek healthcare services regarding reproductive issues, including contraception and testing and treatment for STD," Burnette said. 

Those records also remain confidential, according to both Burnette and the Medical Association of Georgia. 

"Any female in Georgia, regardless of their age or marital status, can consent to surgical or medical treatment or procedures that are not prohibited by law whenever the care is related to their pregnancy, the prevention thereof, or childbirth," the Medical Association of Georgia said in a statement. "Minors in the state may also consent to be tested or treated for sexually transmitted infections – although they must be able to understand the risks and benefits and proposed alternatives to give informed consent. In those cases, the records that are related to surgical or medical treatment or procedure do not need to be provided to a parent who requests the child's medical records."

According to MAG, physicians are not required to but do have the discretion to tell a minor's parent or guardian that the minor has been tested or treated for an STI.

Burnette said there are a few other situations when a minor can obtain health care on their own, including when a minor is married, if the minor is a parent themselves, if a pregnant female is seeking health care for herself, or if the minor is emancipated.

Parents may also encounter privacy restrictions when it comes to health record portals online, such as those used to access medical records or test results online. Burnette said such portals are typically conservative in their default privacy settings.

"Typically we see about 12 and older," she explained. "That would be consistent with the federal substance abuse regulations, for example, and then a parent signs a proxy to opt-in to see the other types of information."

Burnette advises parents to be aware of wording and access when setting up such accounts. Alternately, parents can access and request records through a doctor's office directly. 

Given such sources, the Verify team can confirm that yes, parents generally have a right to their minor child's medical records, but there are exceptions parents should be aware of based on varying state and federal laws.