July 21, 2017
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has called for a tightening of the patient records its GP members provide to life insurers.
This call for a tightening of information was made in a four-point submission by the RACGP to the Parliamentary Joint Committee Inquiry into the Life Insurance Industry, in which it addressed life company processes involved in accessing health information about applicants.
In a submission under the name of RACGP President, Dr Bastian Seidel, Dr Seidel noted what he referred to as “…widespread concern within the general practice sector that inadequate information is provided to consumers when their consent is sought for access to medical records.”
Dr Seidel said many GPs have related the extent of the effort required to ensure that their patients are fully aware of what they have consented to. He said this often involves contacting a patient and explaining the possible repercussions that may stem from the release of their full health record to life insurers. “In many instances, this results in a patient withdrawing consent for release of their health record,” said Dr Seidel, who added that other GPs reported refusing applications from insurers for full medical records and instead, with patient consent, providing a more targeted report to the insurer to assist the insurance application process.
…insurers should not request a full patient record as part of the usual application process
In documenting what the RACGP sees as the need for greater patient education on consent and the release of health information to insurers, Dr Seidel said “We also believe that there should be a tightening of the requirements around requests for full medical records and that insurers should not request a full patient record as part of the usual application process.”
In other points raised in the submission to the PJC Inquiry, Dr Seidel cautioned that “…the therapeutic relationship between a GP and a patient could be affected
by the GP providing a life insurer with a medical record if the patient does not understand that they consented to the release.” He said doctors’ consultation notes act more as an ‘aide memoir’ and are not made for the assessment of risk for insurance purposes: “Our members are concerned about the risks to both them and their patients of misinterpretation by insurers when reviewing a patient’s consultation notes,” said Dr Seidel.
He also warned, “Understanding that medical records can be requested by an insurer may lead GPs to under-document or under-identify patients at risk in efforts to ensure the patient’s access to insurance is not affected.” He continued, “GPs have advised the RACGP that they feel they are placed in a difficult situation where they need to ensure adequate documentation of their consultation with patients while also considering the broader impact this may have on their patient. This in turn may have medico legal ramifications for GPs.”
…patient knowledge of the issues they may face after disclosing symptoms …is likely to discourage disclosure
Dr Seidel added that, similarly, “…patient knowledge of the issues they may face after disclosing symptoms or seeking treatment, particularly for mental health issues, is likely to discourage disclosure and help-seeking, which adversely affects patient wellbeing.
In his concluding remarks, Dr Seideil noted the RACGP has recently had discussions with the Financial Services Council about a roundtable they are establishing with mental health groups. “We will support efforts to provide clarity to patients, GPs and other health service providers about the issues raised in this Inquiry regarding access to and use of patient health information.”