Doctors concerned about life insurers and patient medical records

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has made a four-point submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee calling for the tightening of patient records provided to the life insurance industry. 

There is widespread concern amongst doctors that inadequate information is being provided to consumers when their consent is sought for access to medical records. 

Many GPs have shown the extent of the effort required to ensure their patients know what the possible repercussions are of allowing their full health records to be released to life insurers, often ending with patients withdrawing their consent. 

RACGP President, Dr Bastian Seidel said, 'We 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.”

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.”