Australian health booking platform HealthEngine has been ordered to pay $2.9 million in penalties for misleading customers about how it shared their data with private health insurance brokers and for publishing misleading patient reviews and ratings.

The ACCC began investigating Australia’s largest health services booking platform in 2018 and launched legal proceedings in 2019 alleging it secretly sold the data of 135,000 patients to insurance brokers and doctored patients’ reviews to improve the appearance of practices between 2014 and 2018.

The ACCC says HealthEngine earned more than $1.8 million from its arrangements with private health insurance brokers during the period but the company today maintained it does not sell patient data.

HealthEngine has previously exposed patient data on its website and passed on patient information to lawyers as part of a lead generation scheme.

ACCC Chair Rod Sims. Source: ACCC.gov.au

Following court ordered mediation with the regulator and a joint submission, the Federal Court today ruled HealthEngine had manipulated reviews and had provided users’ personal information to one of nine private health insurance brokers which used the details in follow up calls consumers had thought would come directly from HealthEngine,

The Court ordered the company to pay $2.9 million in penalties, costs, conduct independent compliance reviews, and contact affected customers.

“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,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“The ACCC is very concerned about the potential for consumer harm from the use or misuse of consumer data.”

HealthEngine CEO Dr Marcus Tan acknowledged the decision today and conceded the company “got something wrong” but insists it does not sell data.

“HealthEngine never has, and never will, sell user databases to third parties … We did, however, provide personal information to private health insurance comparison services when consumers specifically requested a call regarding a health insurance comparison. 

“Those consumers may have thought HealthEngine would contact them regarding the comparison, not a third party health insurance comparison service – and that was an error on our part and for which we apologise.”

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