HealthEngine in court for dodgy GP reviews
AUSTRALIA's largest online medical appointment booking service is being taken to court by the consumer watchdog for not publishing negative patient reviews of doctors and disclosing patient information to insurers.
HealthEngine which claims it is used by over a million consumers every month provides an online booking system for patients for over 70,000 health practices and practitioners.
Until June 2018 the service allowed consumers to access reviews from patients about the quality and services of health practitioners.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says it is taking court action against HealthEngine for "misleading and deceptive conduct" because it manipulated these reviews.
It also accused the service of giving information such as names, phone numbers, email addresses, and date of birth of over 135,000 patients to private health insurance brokers for a fee without adequately disclosing to consumers it would do so.
The watchdog claims that between 31 March 2015 to 1 March 2018, HealthEngine refused to publish 17,000 negative reviews.
It says the service also altered 3,000 reviews to remove negative aspects, or to embellish it, before publishing them.
"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," ACCC chief Mr Rod Sims said.
The court action comes after Health Minister Greg Hunt last year ordered an urgent investigation into the HealthEngine after it was caught out handing over users' private medical information to law firms seeking clients for personal injury claims.
Examples of the bad reviews that were not published by HealthEngine include this one in 2015:
"We were treated badly, Unprofessional, Made to feel unwanted Not important."
Another unpublished review in 2017 said: "Waiting area is so dirty, chairs probably need replaces so they are 14/09/2017 plastic rather than fabric. I'm not looking to return again and would not recommend this practice to anyone. Review."
Another unpublished review from 2015 said: "As my children have always been bulk billed here in Our usual doctors at this the past, I thought this was standard practice … We saw a different doctor today who did not bulk bill our and I was unprepared to pay $70.".
Another patient complained that halfway through the appointment the doctor took a personal call on his mobile and was talking about paying his rent and water bill and got out all his credit cards." Very rude and I felt like I was not a priority".
HealthEngine CEO and Founder, Dr Marcus Tan said the company had either discontinued or significantly overhauled the services in question over a year ago.
"These changes were made before HealthEngine was formally advised of any ACCC investigation," he said.
He blamed the company's rapid growth for outpacing its systems and processes and said he "sincerely apologise if that has meant we have not always met the high expectations of us".
He said he was confident 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. Our mission to enable better healthcare experiences and outcomes," he said.