The Federal Court has hit Australia’s largest online medical booking service, HealthEngine, with a $2.9 million dollar fine for “engaging in misleading conduct”. The ACCC kicked off proceedings against the company in 2019 after its investigations found the company was sharing consumer data with insurance brokers and manipulating patient reviews.
Who is HealthEngine?
HealthEngine runs an online system that allows people to search and book medical appointments with more than 70,000 practices and practitioners. The company claims that its service is used by a million people every month. And until June 2018, people could also read reviews about the quality of these practices.
But in a statement released by the ACCC, HealthEngine admitted it gave out non-clinical personal information of more than 135,000 patients to third party private health insurance brokers without adequately informing them.
This included names, dates of birth and contact information. In return, HealthEngine earned $1.8 million for this information, which was provided between April 2014 and June 2018.
The company also admitted censoring more than 17,000 reviews and editing 3,000 more to take out negative parts. It did this while misleading patients about why reviews weren’t published.
What’s the ACCC’s response to the fine?
ACCC Chair Rod Simms welcomed the decision. He said that the Commission was particularly concerned about how HealthEngine’s practices might have affected people’s choices to visit medical practitioners.
“The ACCC was particularly concerned about HealthEngine’s misleading conduct in connection with reviews it published, because patients may have visited medical practices based on manipulated reviews that did not accurately reflect other patients’ experiences,” Simms said.
It’s the latest high-profile win for the ACCC in their pursuit of companies misusing data. And Simms said that he hopes this decision will be a lesson to other companies.
“These penalties and other orders should serve as an important reminder to all businesses that if they are not upfront with how they will use consumers’ data, they risk breaching the Australian Consumer Law,” he said.