29 June 2009

Doctors will have greater clarity around releasing a patient’s full medical notes to insurance companies after the Privacy Commissioner concluded that the law allows insurers to collect only the information that they need to make insurance decisions.

The Privacy Commissioner received a request from the New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) to look into insurers’ requests for full patient notes. The Commissioner concluded that insurance companies can only ask for patient notes that are of direct relevance to their decision to insure a person or to pay on a claim.

“Medical practitioners should expect that the first request from an insurer will be of a more limited nature, such as questions about specific conditions,” says NZMA GP Chair Dr Mark Peterson.

“In some cases insurers may follow up by requesting more detailed information on a patient’s full notes for a specified period but both the insurer and the doctor will need to ensure that they have the patient’s permission to release additional information.”

Insurers have said they are willing to make their forms clearer – taking on board the Privacy Commissioner’s conclusions – so that if they intend to collect medical information there is no confusion for patients and doctors.

The NZMA has produced a resource for members, which reflects the results of the Commissioner’s inquiry.

“If a doctor is uncertain whether a patient has authorised disclosure they need to discuss the matter with their patient,” says Dr Peterson. “Patients may also want to see their medical notes before they make a decision on authorising disclosure.”

The Commissioner has said that occasionally an insurer will be entitled to collect full medical notes, if the more specific information does not provide the detail the insurer needs to make a decision. However, these situations should be rare.