ACCC takes HealthEngine to Federal Court over misleading and deceptive conduct

Matt Woodley

8/08/2019 2:00:21 PM

The online booking platform used by more than 1800 GP clinics has been accused of manipulating reviews and sharing patient data.

Using HealthEngine
HealthEngine is used by more than 1800 GP clinics throughout Australia.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) alleges HealthEngine unlawfully shared consumer information with insurance brokers and altered patient reviews and ratings.
The first set of claims relates to allegedly manipulated reviews published between 31 March 2015 and 1 March 2018, and subsequent misrepresentations to consumers as to why HealthEngine did not publish a rating for some health practices.
ACCC Chair Rod Sims said HealthEngine disregarded around 17,000 reviews and altered around 3000 during this period.
‘We allege that HealthEngine refused to publish negative reviews and altered feedback to remove negative aspects, or to embellish it, before publishing the reviews,’ he said.
‘The alleged conduct by HealthEngine is particularly egregious because patients would have visited doctors at their time of need based on manipulated reviews that did not accurately reflect the experience of other patients.’
The ACCC also alleges that from 30 April 2014 to 30 June 2018, HealthEngine provided the information of more than 135,000 patients to private health insurance brokers for a fee, without adequately disclosing to consumers that it would do so.
‘Patients were misled into thinking their information would stay with HealthEngine but, instead, their information was sold off to insurance brokers,’ Mr Sims said.
‘Issues of transparency and adequate disclosure when digital platforms collect and use consumer data is one of the top priorities at the ACCC.
‘Businesses who are not upfront with how they will use consumer data may risk breaching the Australian Consumer Law and face action.’

HealthEngine founder and CEO Dr Marcus Tan says the company is working hard to rebuild trust. (Image: HealthEngine)

The competition regulator is seeking penalties, declarations, corrective notices and an order for HealthEngine to review its compliance program. It has also applied for an order from the court that would require HealthEngine to contact affected consumers and provide details of how they can regain control of their personal information.
HealthEngine founder and CEO Dr Marcus Tan responded to the ACCC by stating the business had either discontinued or overhauled this services more than a year ago, before it was formally advised of any investigation.
‘Our rapid growth over the years has sometimes outpaced our systems and processes, and we sincerely apologise if that has meant we have not always met the high expectations of us,’ he said.
‘HealthEngine is confident that no adverse health outcomes were created and that personal information was not shared with referral partners unless the individual had expressly requested to be contacted.
‘We are working hard to rebuild the trust we’ve lost with patients and practices.’
The online booking service discontinued its ‘third-party referral service’, patient reviews and third-party banner advertising in July last year.
In an email to newsGP, Dr Rob Hosking, Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – Practice Technology and Management (REC–PTM), referred to the RACGP online appointment technology factsheet as a resource GPs could use if they have ongoing concerns and pointed out there are a number of other online booking service providers.

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Dr James Economos   9/08/2019 9:24:03 AM

Thanks for the read.
I listened to the story on as ABC station last night and it included the company also potentially releasing data/marketing to personal injury law firms.
ABC ran this
I note there isn’t any reference to this in your article.

Dr Richard M Smith   9/08/2019 10:21:53 AM

It's encouraging to see the regulator take action on the alleged serious breaches which came to light in June 2018.