HealthEngine's $2.9m worth of sorrow

The long-running saga of HealthEngine and several instances of its naughty behaviour finally came to an end this week with a spanking $2.9 million fine handed down courtesy of the Federal Court of Australia. In action instigated by the ACCC last year following an ABC investigation, HealthEngine acknowledged it shared users' personal information with insurance brokers without adequately disclosing this to the users, and picked up a tidy $1.8m over four years for doing so.

It also admitted to some stunningly creative editing of patient reviews of practices that would make a real estate copywriter blush. As revealed in a nice bit of sleuthing from the Sydney Morning Herald in June 2018, HealthEngine staffers edited about 3000 reviews to remove negative comments. They also failed to publish around 17,000 reviews them, and admitted that it misrepresented to consumers the reasons why it did not publish a rating.

While we found the reviews themselves a bit of a laugh, the serious people at the ACCC certainly didn't. We think it was the sharing of data with ambulance chasers that was the most egregious of the two cases, and HealthEngine might agree. It was at pains this week to reiterate that the information it shared with third parties was contact details, not clinical data, and it was always with the consent of the patient, even if they didn't really understand what they were consenting to.

HealthEngine issued a statement saying that the services in question were either discontinued two years ago, and it would never do it again.

Also this week, some of our most popular stories were about technologies that can be implemented in hurry to help with the pandemic and its second wave. An interesting one was about an easy to use, cloud-based solution called Capacity Tracker that can help track capacity and availability of PPE, staff and beds in residential aged care facilities along with tracking the capability of general practices to help support them. This solution was first developed to help NHS hospitals with transfers of care to nursing homes but has been adapted here to involve GP practices. It has been set up so that other PHNs in Australia can quickly adopt it if they so choose, and would be easily transferrable to PHOs and DHBs in New Zealand as well.

We also heard from SA Health, which worked with vendor partner InterSystems to quickly develop an interface between its infectious disease surveillance system and a new workflow system which, should the worst happen and a second wave hits, can be used for contact tracing and end-to-end management of cases. We also covered a new video platform aimed at GPs that is soon to also be available to allied health practices and promises to be as easy to use as the phone. It is being offered for free for six months thanks to a subsidy by a health insurer.

WA Health is also doing some interesting stuff with remote monitoring. While this usually means monitoring patients in the community, Royal Perth Hospital is going to monitor high-acuity inpatients from its brand new Command Centre. The centre opened in April and is currently giving clinicians full visibility of the patient journey from ambulance to ED to discharge, including bed numbers and availability. (Channel 7 has a nice little story on it here.)

It's based on a concept pioneered by Canada's Humber Hospital in Toronto and has been championed by WA's health minister Roger Cook. This week, Philips won a $6.5m contract to provide the gear for high acuity part of the project, which will monitor 50 beds at Royal Perth and Armadale hospitals.

And finally, Canterbury DHB is having a major crisis just when it didn't need it. Last week, its well-regarded CEO David Meates up and quit, along with its director of planning Carolyn Gullery, who was the executive sponsor of Canterbury HealthPathways and of the South Island's HealthOne shared care record. This week, it lost its equally well-regarded chief digital officer Stella Ward along with its directors of medicine and nursing. The DHB is facing a deficit of $180m and the board insists that this must be reduced, but it appears the executive is not taking the board's assurances that this can be done without losing clinical staff or services seriously. It is not often that doctors and nurses protest the loss of administrators or that the board face calls to “bring back Dave”, but that's what happened yesterday. It might be time for the Health Minister, or better yet the Prime Minister, to step in.

That brings us to the poll for the week. Regular readers might remember that when HealthEngine's battle with the ACCC began this time last year, we asked in a poll: Do you support the ACCC's decision to act against HealthEngine? At the time, 93 per cent of you said yes and just seven per cent said no. A year later and we turn to Goldilocks for our poll question:

Do you think HealthEngine's penalty is too high, too low or just right?

Vote here and feel free to leave your comments below.

Our poll from last week surveyed your thoughts on whether technology can be put to better use in aged care for COVID-19 management. Absolutely, 90 per cent said, with just 10 per cent saying no.


+3 # Donald Rose 2020-08-22 11:55
Health Engine betrayed doctors as well as patients and should be put out of business. They are still doing sneaky stuff like diverting patients from their usual practice to a subscribing practice. Hopefully they will disappear.
+2 # Paul Venables 2020-08-22 15:26
The penalty seems about right if their Board and Exec Team learn from experience and mend their ways. Unfortunately there is no guarantee this will be the case; people with bad habits often find it hard to change!

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