Complaints could rise if GPs disclose patient records to insurance companies

GPs could face complaints from patients holding them responsible for rejected insurance applications if they disclose complete medical records to insurance companies, medico-legal experts have warned.

GPs should explain the possible consequences of releasing patient records to insurance firms

The Medical Protection Society (MPS) has advised GPs to ensure patients have given valid consent before disclosing their information to insurance companies.

This comes as 47% of practices revealed a drop in income from private and professional fees, due to requests for insurance reports falling.

The MPS said that some insurance companies, when deciding insurance policies for individuals, were asking GPs to disclose a patient’s full medical record for their own assessment rather than a general practitioner report (GPR) from the GP.

Despite requiring a consent form to access complete medical records, the MPS was concerned that patients might authorise a full disclosure without realising the possible implications on their policy or insurance application.

This could lead to complaints against the GP and their practice, the MPS warned.

MPS director of policy and communications Dr Stephanie Bown explained: ‘For example, an insurance company may come across something in a patient’s medical history, such as a short course of anti-depressants prescribed 10 years previously, and treat this as a risk when considering whether to offer an insurance policy.

‘The patient may have forgotten about this course of treatment and not realise that the insurance company has access to that information and could hold the GP responsible if this negatively affects their application.

‘GPs should ensure that the patient properly understands what they have authorised in order to avoid problems.

‘If a doctor is unsure whether their patient realises what they have agreed to, they should always check the patient’s understanding.’

The move by insurance companies has also led to a drop in practices earnings. A survey of 568 GPs and practice managers, carried out by GP’s new sister publication, Medeconomics, found that nearly half of practices had seen their income from private and professional fees fall.

GPC practice finance subcommittee chairman Dr Ian Hume said increasingly rather than paying for practices to complete reports, firms simply asked for relevant information from patient records for a lower fee.

‘Part of that may be a slump in the market. There is also a trend for companies to ask fewer questions,' Dr Hume said.

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