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ACCC Takes HealthEngine To Court Over Alleged Data Misuse And Sale Of Patient Info To Insurance Companies

The consumer watchdog has launched legal action against Australia's largest online health booking platform HealthEngine, alleging the company sold patient data and edited or deleted countless patient reviews.

On Thursday the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)  launched legal action against the Perth-based company in the Federal Court, accusing it of misleading and deceptive conduct.

Now, HealthEngine-- a medical booking app -- faces multi-million-dollar fines for selling patient health data.

“We allege that HealthEngine refused to publish negative reviews and altered feedback to remove negative aspects, or to embellish it, before publishing the reviews,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“We will argue that HealthEngine disregarded around 17,000 reviews, and altered around 3,000 in the relevant time period,” he said in a statement.

READ MORE: Do You Suffer From A Severe Case Of The Doctor Googles?

Sims described the alleged conduct as "particularly egregious" given some vulnerable patients where choosing doctors "based on manipulated reviews that did not accurately reflect the experience of other patients".

The health appointment booking service backed by Telstra and Seven West Media. IMAGE: supplied

On its website, HealthEngine claims it is used by over a million consumers every month and provides an online booking system for patients for over 70,000 health practices and practitioners.

The ACCC has also accused the company of passing the personal health information of approximately 135,000 patients to insurance brokers in exchange for payments.

READ MORE: The Huge Cost Of Staying Healthy In Australia Revealed

In June last year, the ABC revealed HealthEngine was passing on users' sensitive health information to law firms seeking clients for personal injury claims.

In response to the revelation, at the time Health Minister Greg Hunt ordered an "urgent review" of the country's biggest online doctor appointment booking service.

The ACCC also alleges between March 2015 and 2018, HealthEngine manipulated patient reviews and refused to publish negative reviews.

The ACCC alleges reviews like the above were deleted. IMAGE: supplied

HealthEngine is facing a fine of $1.1 million for each breach of the law, but the ACCC has yet to determine how many breaches it will allege.

In a statement, HealthEngine chief executive Marcus Tan said the company had made significant changes to its business model.

HealthEngine CEO Marcus Tan. IMAGE: supplied

"These changes were made before HealthEngine was formally advised of any ACCC investigation," he said.

"HealthEngine is confident that 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."

Tan said the company is working to rebuild the trust it has lost.

"HealthEngine recognies 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."

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au