ACCC targets HealthEngine over data sharing, reviews

HealthEngine says it dumped controversial practices before becoming aware of the ACCC investigation

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has accused doctor booking service HealthEngine of sharing information about patients with private health insurance brokers without adequately disclosing the practice.

The ACCC said that HealthEngine passed on patient information including name, phone number, email address, date or year of birth, appointment time, type of health care practice a booking was made with, and whether or not an individual had private health insurance.

The information was passed on to brokers when a HealthEngine user indicated they were interested in receiving a call related to comparing health insurance services. However, according to the ACCC the service did not adequately disclose that the information would be shared if the patient answered ‘yes’ to the relevant question.

HealthEngine received fees for referring some 135,000 patients to brokers between 30 April 2014 and 30 June 2018, according to an ACCC court filing.

The ACCC has also accused the service of manipulating patient reviews of health services. The company selectively published 50,000 out of around 128,000 reviews received between 31 March 2015 and 1 March 2018, the ACCC said.

It didn’t publish negative reviews and would “embellish” some reviews or remove suggestions or improvement and/or negative comments, the ACCC said.

“We allege that HealthEngine refused to publish negative reviews and altered feedback to remove negative aspects, or to embellish it, before publishing the reviews,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“We will argue that HealthEngine disregarded around 17,000 reviews, and altered around 3000 in the relevant time period,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.

“The ACCC considers that 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.”

In June 2018 HealthEngine was condemned by privacy advocacy organisations for its lead-generation business, which included passing on user information to law firms. That same month the company came under fire for the practice of selectively publishing positive excerpts from reviews.

HealthEngine CEO and founder Marcus Tan said today that over a year ago the company had “either discontinued or significantly overhauled” the services that are the subject of the ACCC’s court action.

“These changes were made before HealthEngine was formally advised of any ACCC investigation,” Tan said.

“HealthEngine recognises that 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.

“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,” a statement from the CEO said. “Our mission to enable better healthcare experiences and outcomes remains at the heart of everything we do.”

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Tags privacyHealthcarehealthAustralian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)HealthEngine

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