We reported in our August 2018 Bulletin the controversy surrounding HealthEngine, the largest online health directory, in relation to data sharing of patient information with third party providers.
Unfortunately the already unwanted attention has not dissipated for HealthEngine, as the ACCC has now instituted proceedings in the Federal Court, alleging HealthEngine engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct relating to the sharing of consumer information with insurance brokers and the publishing of patient reviews and ratings.
The allegations relate to a period between April 2014 and June 2018, when HealthEngine provided personal patient information to third parties, including private health insurance brokers for a fee.
The ACCC is also separately concerned about reviews published on HealthEngine’s website, and particularly its decisions to:
- Not publish negative reviews, or
- Alter feedback to remove the negative aspects which provided a misleading and overwhelmingly positive review of HealthEngine’s services.
From 1 March 2015, HealthEngine sent patients who had attended consultations booked through the HealthEngine platform, a follow-up survey. One of the questions invited patients to provide feedback about their experience. It is alleged that HealthEngine selectively published reviews and engaged in a practice where it would not publish any negative patient reviews, or it would edit the reviews before publishing them.
Examples of reviews that were edited included a review which originally stated:
‘Happy with the experience, although reception needs thorough cleaning. Old chairs need thorough cleaning/scrubbing. I kept thinking how unsanitary they looked’ was edited to simply read ‘Happy with the experience.’
And, ‘The practice is good, just disappointed with Health Engine. I will call the clinic next time, instead of booking online’ was edited to ‘The practice is good.’
The ACCC are seeking orders from the Federal Court that would require HealthEngine to issue corrective notices and also require HealthEngine to contact affected consumers and provide details of how they can regain control of their personal information. In addition, the ACCC is seeking penalties to be imposed on HealthEngine.
We will provide further updates as the matter progresses.
In the meantime, the case serves as an opportunity to remind practitioners about how important it is protect the information obtained from patients from misuse or unauthorised access.
Furthermore, many practices now advertise via various online platforms, including Google, which has a platform (Google Review) allowing patients to provide feedback and ratings of the practice or a particular health practitioner or staff member.
We often speak to our members and clients enquiring about removing negative feedback published online. Where the feedback is defamatory, offensive, or untruthful, there may be avenues to have those reviews removed (although it can be difficult). However, a review that is simply unfavorable to the practice, or a particular practitioner, is unlikely to be removed and decisions to only publish reviews that are favorable may be seen as misleading and in the most serious cases, lead to concerns being raised by the ACCC (as HealthEngine are now experiencing).