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  • By RMT
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  • Posted Monday July 30, 2018

The financial impact of GDPR on practice incomes

They say that familiarity breeds contempt – and in the case of how unavoidable the letters G, D, P and R have been in recent months, it's probably fair to say that most of us have become pretty contemptuous.

The arrival of the new General Data Protection Regulation and the lengths businesses have had to go to ensure they are compliant with them has been one of the defining features of the year so far, and I doubt there's anyone reading this article that won't have got sick of the relentless stream of related emails that came our way in advance of the May 25 implementation deadline.

In some ways the primary care sector has felt less of a GDPR impact than other sectors, if only in as much as the right for family doctors to hold patient data is enshrined under the 'vital interest' of the new rules, which refers to data processing being required 'to save or protect an individual's life'.

However, a side issue of the new regulations that does very much relate to primary care is becoming more and more controversial, and it's one that could have a significant impact on a particular income stream that is significant to many practices' financial well-being.

Recent guidance issued by the BMA highlights the fact that "patients must, in most cases, be given access to their medical records as a Subject Access Request (SAR) free of charge, including when a patient authorises access by a third party such as a solicitor."

The fees charged by primary care practices for providing medical reports for legal or insurance-related reasons can often add up to a substantial amount, especially for larger practices. If the request is for a medical report to be created, or for interpretation of information within a medical report/record, the new rules still allow for a fee to be charged.

However, a medical report or record that already exists will be accessible - for free - as an SAR, regardless of the administration or management time it takes for the practice to provide this information. A ‘reasonable fee’ can only be charged if the SAR request is manifestly unfounded or excessive. The BMA believes such chargeable circumstances are likely to be rare, and is seeking clarification from the Information Commissioner's Office on what 'manifestly unfounded or excessive' actually means.

In the meantime, primary care practices have no real option but to comply with the GDPR regulations and manage any queries they get on a case-by-case basis, with the cost in terms of both time and money potentially having to be absorbed.

Given that time and human resources are stretched enough as it is for most practices, managers need to be giving this issue their attention now by looking at the average numbers of medical report requests that are currently being received and ensuring there is enough staff time allocated within the practice's operations to manage this 'average' level of demand.

A review of the income that might be lost should also be carried out, so that there isn't a surprising hole in the practice's finances when the next management meeting comes around.

Richard Humphreys is director at RMT Healthcare, the specialist medical division of Newcastle-based RMT Accountants & Business Advisors. For further information on RMT Accountants & Business Advisors, please visit www.r-m-t.co.uk.

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