Subject access requests and online technology have opened the debate over GP reports. Ian Smart asks if this could remove a perennial insurance bugbear.
Some of the comments from GPs and practice managers are equally scathing of this development, while some of those on financial services websites are supportive of the move.
This does not bode well for a good working relationship with GPs on whom we rely to obtain the information we need to underwrite effectively. What should we do to resolve this? If we are to improve the situation, a confrontational approach is not usually the best way to open negotiations.
But the government recently announced that patient records will be made available to the life sciences industry by the end of 2012. By 2015, all patients will have online access to GP records.
Naturally, GPs are divided on the government’s plans. Some believe they are unnecessary. Others who already allow patients to access their records online have reported significant benefits of freeing up GPs to treat other patients. This is because appointments are not being used by patients simply wanting test results.
But it is inevitable that all patient records will be online and readily accessible by the patient. Perhaps this creates an opportunity to open a dialogue with the BMA and government to allow insurers to also access this data securely. This may take some time and a commitment from the industry to invest in technology and agree a common standard of request.
But this is something that we have done before in other areas and have considerable experience in delivering. There will inevitably be some cost to this. But collectively, the industry spends many millions on GP reports every year.
In these cash-strapped times, the government may even welcome an offer from the industry to pay for a significant part of the development. This could lead to other benefits for patients and the NHS with greater access to up-to-date accurate health records available as a result. An ongoing fee could still be charged for each request – payable centrally – which could help fund the upkeep of the infrastructure to allow this.
Assuming that any fee for accessing this data would be much less than asking a GP to complete the current report, the savings in costs and time could be enough to justify this investment from the insurance industry. And there is the added incentive for government that GPs’ time would be freed up to treat patients.
Comments have been made about how we have tried to negotiate in the past without much success. But that was at a time when GPs held the majority of the cards, making meaningful negotiation difficult. We needed something they had sole control of and no other real means of obtaining.
The opening up of access to GP records means that the balance of power is shifting. Perhaps now is the time for the industry to be taking the lead. By talking to those who can influence the extent to which these records can be accessed, we can emphasise the benefits that both sides can receive as a result.
Ian Smart is head of product development and technical support at Bright Grey & Scottish Provident
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