The US Department of Health and Human and Services has been ramping up their enforcement of HIPAA privacy rules as of late. Most recently significant fines have been levied against UCLA Medical Center. What this means to you is that health care providers are going to scrutinize ever more who receives your personal health information. In general, that's good news. The primary purpose of HIPAA is to protect your confidential health information. However, there are times when you want others to have access to your that information. Hospitals will be less likely to cooperate (to some extent out of fear of incurring the wrath of the USDHHS) unless you have formally authorized it.
That's where a well-drafted health care power of attorney comes in. Any time you check in to a hospital, they have you complete a stack of forms. Among them is a HIPAA waiver for identified parties. However, if you enter a hospital in an incapacitated condition, obviously you're not completing those forms. Having done so in advance as part of your estate plan will alleviate the issues that may arise. Moreover, completing those intake forms upon entry to a hospital is rarely done in a fully lucid state of mind anyway, since most hospital stays are not initiated deliberately. By completing a health care directive or medical power of attorney, you will have made all the pertinent decisions in advance, free of the stress of the hospital waiting room.