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ABI embraces e-signatures to speed up medical data consents for life and health cover

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has set out "high level principles" aimed at ensuring both insurers and doctors can rely on electronic signatures (e-signatures) of patients as consent to the sharing and accessing of medical records.

The ABI said (13-page / 853KB PDF) following the principles would help speed up the process involved in buying health or life insurance cover where "further medical information" is required by insurers.

E-signatures can be used to convey patient consent to the sharing of their medical information with insurers by doctors, and avoid a more drawn up process for obtaining that consent which arises where physical consent documents are involved, the ABI said.

"E-signatures can both secure and speed up the process by allowing the consent to be sent instantly and electronically to the GP, thus cutting out several days from the process," the ABI said. "An e-signature process can also improve upon current safeguards by ensuring an audit trail is made easily available to the GP to provide evidence that fully informed and clear consent has been obtained from their patient and is not fraudulent, without the need for the GP to make a comparison of wet-signatures held on file for every consent form."

"From the third party point of view, such as an insurance provider, e-signatures will allow them to provide insurance cover to their clients more quickly by reducing the time it takes for consent to get from client to insurer to GP, whilst protecting the GP’s position," it said.

One of the ABI's 10 principles requires insurers and doctors relying on e–signatures to demonstrate consent to ensure that the process of e-signatures they follow is "legally compliant". New EU laws on e-signatures are set to come into force this summer.

The e-signature process must also be aligned with data security standards and not compromise GPs’ professional indemnity, while e-signatures should also only be relied on where the process ensures that consent given to medical data sharing is "fully informed", according to some of the other ABI principles.

Luke Scanlon, technology law expert for Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the development was a positive move forward which aligns with other industry initiatives.

"These high level principles tie in well with other industry initiatives around open APIs and open data for banks and digital IDs for consumers of financial services more broadly," Scanlon said.

"If consumers can have confidence in the authentication processes around transferring medical information and can trust that their information will be used for their benefit and kept secure, the benefits that come in terms of cost and ease of use of purely digital processes will change the ways in which people engage with all aspects of their financial lives," he said.

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