Insurers risking breaking privacy law, says privacy commissioner

Marie Shroff

A report by the privacy commissioner released today says that insurers, by asking full patient notes, have been risking breaking privacy law.

Investigations held by Marie Shroff have discovered that insurers have been crossing limits in requesting full medical notes going back a number of years, when insuring people or paying out on a claim.

It should be noted that at the request of NZMA - which was worried about the wide nature of medical information being requested, and whether patients realized they were consenting to their entire medical records being released - that the investigation in the matter was initiated in November 2007.

Ms. Shroff says that there is a dire need for Insurer practices to be amended.

In a media release, Ms. Shroff said: "While people need to be completely upfront and honest when insurers ask about their medical history, their medical notes contain a great deal of information about them, for instance about their families, which is not relevant."

She firmly said that when the insurers ask for full notes, even when they don't need all the information held in those notes, they are risking breaking the law.

She said all that the insurers required was asking selected questions and finding information only about relevant health conditions.

She added: "Only rarely will they need to see full notes and on those occasions they should go back to the patient and explain why, and seek specific permission. The patient should be given an opportunity to discuss the request with their GP and, possibly, check their notes."

Ms. Shroff concluded that then the patients will be in a position to discuss with the insurer whether the material in their notes is relevant.