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New guiding principles on medical requests published

  • Electronic medical information requests can speed up insurance applications and relieve GP workloads.
  • Customer consent and protection of individual personal medical data remain a priority for insurers.

The ABI has today published guidelines on electronic paperless requests for medical information that insurers need when providing valuable cover, such as life insurance, to customers. These guiding principles have been drawn up with input from the Information Commissioner’s Office and the British Medical Association, to ensure that electronic requests adhering to these principles aim to share customers’ medical information securely to a higher standard than the current paper-based system. 
Obtaining medical information electronically only takes place where a customer has given consent. It can benefit customers, GPs and insurers by:

-    Making it easier to consistently protect patients’ personal medical information. 
-    Speeding up the application process by ensuring that insurers get the right information to provide insurance cover, meaning that customers can benefit from valuable cover faster. In a recent sample, one insurer using electronic requests in 2016 has already seen almost half of electronic requests come back within 7 days, compared to an average of 22 days under the paper-based system.
-    Reducing the time GPs spend on dealing with requests for medical information, giving them more time to deal with patients.
-    Giving individuals greater certainty when claiming as the right information has been given to the insurer.

These guiding principles include ensuring that:

-    Clear customer consent is received. No medical information will be released without the customer’s consent. 
-    An electronic process allows the GP to amend, delete or add sensitive personal information before responding to an insurer, allowing GPs to check the information is correct before sending it to an insurer. This can make the process more efficient.
-    An electronic request is at least as secure as, or is more secure than, the current paper-based system of obtaining medical information.  

-    Any requests are made in accordance with a patient’s rights under relevant legislation, such as the Access to Medical Reports Act 1998.The guiding principles will be reviewed if there are any fundamental changes to this legislation in the future.

Research by one ABI member has found some customers didn’t have a preference of which route to choose – paper or electronic. For those customers who did have a clear preference (which was the majority of the sample) 90% chose electronic and the remainder paper.  

ABI Assistant Director, Head of Health and Protection, Raluca Boroianu-Omura said:

“Obtaining medical information electronically has clear potential benefits for customers, insurers and GPs. Insurers often need medical information to process an application for protection insurance cover, such as life insurance, and the current system can take time and add to many GPs’ workloads. Using electronic requests could help save GPs time. Obtaining this information electronically could also speed up applications for insurance cover, ensuring customers receive their cover faster than before, as well as making life easier for doctors. These guiding principles are an important foundation to ensure that everyone has confidence that safeguards are in place to robustly and consistently protect an individual’s personal medical information.”

ICO Group Manager - Business & Industry, Garreth Cameron, said:

"Medical records contain some of our most sensitive personal information and it's vitally important patients can continue to discuss health concerns with their GP in confidence. We recognise that insurers sometimes need to access relevant medical information in order to provide the cover and peace of mind individuals want when they are purchasing insurance. We are pleased the insurance industry has responded to the ICO's concerns by producing these guidelines, and we encourage insurers to ensure these principles are put into practice. Insurers should continue to work with GPs to ensure patients can be confident their information is only going to be disclosed with their explicit consent, in appropriate circumstances, and only when robust safeguards are in place to protect the information."

- Ends -

Notes for Editors

1.    Enquiries to:
Malcolm Tarling                020 7216 7410    Mobile: 07776 147 667
Lauren Gow                      020 7216 7327    Mobile: 07889 641702
Sarah Cordey                   020 7216 7375    Mobile: 07860 189071

2.    An ISDN line is available for broadcast

3.    More news and information from the ABI is available on our web site, www.abi.org.uk.

Last updated 18/01/2017