The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has published guidelines on electronic paperless requests for medical information from GPs that insurers need when providing protection insurance.
The guiding principles have been drawn up with input from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and the British Medical Association.
In a recent sample, one insurer using electronic requests in 2016 has already seen almost half of electronic requests come back within seven days, compared to an average of 22 days under the paper-based system.
The new 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.
Insurers Scottish Widows and Zurich have both adopted electronic GP requests for their protection customers. In February last year, the ABI also introduced guidelines for insurer use of e-signatures in a bid to speed up the medical information gathering process.
Obtaining medical information electronically speeds up the application process by ensuring insurers obtain the right information to provide insurance cover, meaning that customers can benefit from valuable cover faster.
It also makes it easier to protect patients' medical information, reduces the time GPs spend on dealing with requests for medical information and gives individuals greater certainty that the right information has been given to the insurer.
Research by one ABI member has found some customers did not 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.
Raluca Boroianu-Omura, ABI Assistant Director, head of Health and Protection, 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."
Garreth Cameron, ICO Group Manager - Business & Industry, 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."
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