Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Broad waivers for insurer access to medical files

A correpondent from the west coast sent me this link.

Janice Mucalov, a contributing writer to the North Shore News (North and West Vancouver, BC) has written an article on the forms of waivers that are routinely sought by insurance companies following an accident. (ICBC is the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia.) In my experience, these forms are often way too broad and give carte blanche to insurance companies and lawyers to delve into irrelvant facts. That said, I have also seen cases where matters of medical history that plaintiffs' lawyers say are irrelevant that are actually evidence of pre-existing conditions. It's a difficult line to draw.

ICBC can discover too much information :

"IT'S an innocuous-looking form. But what damage it can cause.

The problem is ICBC's "Authorization to Provide Medical Information." If you're injured in a car accident, ICBC routinely asks you to sign this form. It authorizes your doctor, chiropractor, physiotherapist and others who have treated you to provide ICBC with copies of your medical records. Assuming responsibility for the accident isn't an issue, ICBC uses these medical records to come to an assessment of your injuries and determine the amount to offer you by way of a settlement.

So far, so good. The form even says that while it authorizes release of your medical history and physical condition both before and after the accident, "regardless of lapsed time," the information should relate in some way to the injuries received.

In practice, however, ICBC often gets hold of some very personal medical information that has nothing to do with the accident, causing claimants a lot of grief.

In one case, the claimant (let's call her "Janet X") suffered a simple whiplash as a result of a car accident. She wasn't making any claim for psychological injuries caused or aggravated by the accident. In the course of her dealings with ICBC, she signed the release form. She then hired a lawyer, who asked ICBC to send over copies of all Janet X's medical records that ICBC had obtained.

When the lawyer reviewed the records, he discovered ICBC had reams and reams of information about Janet X's lengthy five-year history of depression from before the accident. Needless to say, Janet X was extremely upset about ICBC having access to information which she rightly believed was none of its business.

The fact is, if you have been treated for ovarian or prostate cancer or been prescribed Prozac for depression or Viagra for erectile dysfunction, there's no reason for ICBC to see this information if it isn't relevant to your legal case. The adjuster, the supervisor, the ICBC unit manager and perhaps others within ICBC all have access to this information. Adjusters also change, so there's a good chance that at least two adjusters will look at your file, in addition to the supervisors up the chain. This is personal information. Do you really want ICBC knowing this about you?

One difficulty is that, in most cases, doctors and medical practitioners don't screen your medical records before sending them off to ICBC, so ICBC gets everything from years and years before the accident.

But ICBC is also interested in reviewing your past medical history from way back to see if you've made previous complaints similar to the complaints arising out of the accident. If you've complained of back pain before, the argument can be made that the back pain you've been experiencing since the accident wasn't caused by the accident, but is an old problem for which you shouldn't be compensated.

A lawyer will block out all personal and private information that's irrelevant to your claim and only give ICBC the relevant medical information. If you're concerned about the privacy of your medical records, consult a lawyer before you sign any documents or releases in a personal injury claim."

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