Online healthcare booking platform HealthEngine is being sued over allegedly manipulating patient reviews and ratings and selling private information of over 135,000 patients to private health insurance brokers.
HealthEngine is an online booking service for 70,000 GPs and health practices around Australia, and claims to have 1.5 million monthly users. Its major investors include Telstra and Seven West Media.
Last year it was revealed HealthEngine had edited around half of the tens of thousands of reviews patients had given health practices on its platform to make some of those otherwise neutral or negative reviews positive. Lengthy criticisms of a practice or a GP were shortened in many cases to focus on the positive parts of the patient’s reviews.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which has launched legal action against HealthEngine, alleges in court documents that from March 2015, HealthEngine received 128,000 patient reviews and published 50,000 of those reviews.
For a practice, if less than 80% of reviewers said they would recommend the practice, then HealthEngine did not publish a rating for the practice, and said there was “insufficient data to calculate a patient satisfaction level”.
HealthEngine did not publish the 17,000 reviews from patients who said they would not recommend the practice, and otherwise edited reviews from other patients.
For example, one review said “happy with experience although reception needs thorough clean. Old chairs need thorough cleaning/scrubbing. I kept thinking how unsanitary they looked”.
This review was edited down to “Happy with experience.”
Another review stating: “The doctors are very good. However the delay at times is not satisfactory. Last visit I waiting 2.5hrs!” was edited down to “The doctors are very good.”
The ACCC also alleges that HealthEngine had arrangements with nine different private health insurance brokers where the company received a fee for referring patients to them.
HealthEngine provided the brokers with the patient’s name, phone number, email address, date or year of birth, appointment time, type of healthcare practice where the booking was made, and whether or not the patient had private health insurance.
The ACCC alleges during the online booking process that HealthEnginge did not adequately disclose to patients that if they indicated they don’t have health insurance, their information is passed on to the brokers.
The ACCC alleges that HealthEngine engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct under Australian Consumer Law for the editing of reviews and the passing on of personal information.
HealthEngine CEO and founder Dr Marcus Tan said in a statement that HealthEngine either discontinued or overhauled the services in question over a year ago.
“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,” he said.
“We are working hard to rebuild the trust we’ve lost with patients and practices. Our mission to enable better healthcare experiences and outcomes remains at the heart of everything we do.”
The list of GPs in Melbourne on HealthEngine shows many practices still do not have patient reviews or ratings published.