TripAdvisor for doctors trips up

The Queen's birthday long weekend languor seemed to grip the Australian health IT industry this week and it turned out to be a bit of a slow one, but the weekend itself was spiced up somewhat by a rather fascinating article in Fairfax newspapers on Saturday that had a lot of us agog.

That was the bad review saga, in which it was revealed that online appointments booking service HealthEngine had been editing customer reviews of practices on its site to such a degree that negatives were not just deleted, but sanitised to the point they became positives.

The Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA) rumbled ominously into action mid-week, issuing guidance about how selectively editing reviews and testimonials may break the law. While HealthEngine have admitted to the selective editing, it’s debatable as to whether it was for advertising purposes. Either way, the damage of adverse publicity across mainstream and social media has been done. By Monday, HealthEngine had removed all customer reviews and issued an apology, saying the company was reassessing the whole program.

We spoke to HealthEngine CEO Marcus Tan in 2015 when the review features were first launched, and back then he was clear that no negative feedback would be published, but instead sent to the practice for customer service improvement purposes. It was an aspirational program designed for service improvement, he said, and only those with high satisfaction ratings would be able to have them published.

Patients are told on the website when they leave a review that it may be edited and that only positive reviews are published, but it was the extent to which they were edited that had everyone concerned. While credible – or at least well frequented – GP review sites may one day gain traction in Australia as they have elsewhere in the world, it seems HealthEngine has tripped over in its attempts to shield its general practice customers from the very patients it has funnelled to them.

The other big story this week was the Queensland budget, which saw its $360 million specialist outpatients strategy extended by $155m. This strategy has delivered a few wins already, including opening up Queensland Health's The Viewer clinical portal to GPs if they wish to keep track of their patients' medical records while they're in hospital. It also includes an integrated referral management solution, the winning tender for which should be announced soon, and in future the ability for patients to book their specialist appointment online.

We had hoped to bring you a story on SafeScript, the real-time prescription monitoring system that Victoria is rolling out, but for some reason the Department of Health and Human Services absolutely refuses to assist us by putting forward a spokesperson to answer a few simple technical questions. We've been trying for about two and a half years to speak to someone about this – we asked this time for Matthew McCrone, director of RTPM implementation for DHHS, who has given presentations happily before – but we were told yet again that it was “too early to go into detail”.

This surprises us, as we read just this week that the roll out is to begin on October 1, and that SafeScript will start collecting prescription records from community pharmacies from early July. We presume this is through one of the prescription exchange services, but we'd like to know what happens to it after that.

DHHS, however, is remaining shtum, which immediately makes us sussed. If it's too early to go into detail about how the system works in the week beginning June 11, how on earth is this system going to be up and running in the week beginning July 2? If anyone knows why the department is so reluctant to be transparent about this project, we'd be happy to hear it.

Our poll question this week is: Do you think HealthEngine should close its practice reviews permanently?

To vote in our weekly polls, sign up for our weekend edition or leave your comments below.

Our poll last week asked: Do you think patients would use apps that that link to hospital EMRs? Overwhelmingly yes: 87 per cent to 13 per cent saying no.

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