Hospital visitation rights: family members and partners

When you’re hospitalized, a few important questions come up. What are my hospital visitation rights? Who is allowed to visit me in the hospital? Who can make medical decisions for me when I’m unable to? Over the years, laws have been changed and updated so we wanted to highlight what you can expect during a hospitalization:

What are my hospital visitation rights?

Since 2011, federal regulations have required any hospital accepting Medicare and Medicaid (which includes the majority of hospitals) to allow patients to say who they want as visitors. The patient’s wishes must be respected regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or relationship. General hospital rules regarding visiting hours will be enforced. However, the enforcement will not discriminate according to relationship.

In addition, if you’re a hospital patient, you may choose someone to act as your advocate. This person can ask questions, speak to doctors on your behalf, and generally become part of your care team.

When do hospital visitation rights get blurry?

Confusion can still come up if you are hospitalized and unable to communicate, and you do not have any signed documents on file with your physician or primary care provider. This can be especially problematic if you don’t have a trusted family member who will show up and make medical decisions on your behalf. Without you being able to make this decision, state rules vary about who can make medical decisions for you. This role may be limited to people related to you by legal marriage or blood, depending on your state’s policies.

Furthermore, under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, if you are unable to give consent, providers can use their judgment regarding who they share your information with. And they are not required to share it with any specific person.

As a patient, what legal documents do I need to protect my rights?

You will need to draw up a Medical Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy. This allows you to designate an advocate (or two) to make medical decisions on your behalf when you’re unable to. You can also revoke this document at any time, and it only applies in instances where you are incapacitated. It’s also helpful to create an Advance Directive. This includes your personal health care wishes that you want that person to base their decisions on. Rules for these documents differ between states, and you can look up your state’s forms here.

The rules surrounding medical care are complex and shifting but many of today’s laws work on behalf of supporting the patient’s wishes. Our Consumer Advocates are always available to help you understand your rights regarding health care coverage as well as general health policies.

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