In the wake of revelations that the online health service provider booking service HealthEngine has been passing on user details to third parties such as legal firms, the Australian Dental Association (ADA) is urging the public to scrutinise the activities of health service provider directory Whitecoat, which has significant private health insurer shareholder ownership.
With users of HealthEngine unable to opt out having their details passed on in this manner due to provisions in the site's Collection Statement, the reality is that the majority are unaware of the full level of detail in the terms and conditions they agree to for use of a service, nor the full implications of how their personal date will be used.
Given the importance of informed consent as a key principle in healthcare, consumers should be protected by misuse of their healthcare data, with as a bare minimum, the legislative requirement for them to have the ability to opt out of having their information sent to third parties for commercial purposes.
In the light of the HealthEngine revelations, the ADA has also raised concerns about another corporately owned, and commercially run health consumer service – Whitecoat.
While the self-described "online health care provider directory and customer review website" purports to be an independent means for the public to find the healthcare, three private health funds have significant shared ownership of the service which raises serious questions about conflicts of interest.
The priority of listings when a consumer searches in influenced by whether a provider has opted into Whitecoat, has paid a monthly fee for use of the online booking function and the number and quality of reviews.
Whitecoat's moderation policy gives it the right to edit, remove or simply not publish reviews, which puts it in the position of being able to favour dentists contracted the three funds which have a stake in it.
Whitecoat claims that it wants to help consumers "to make better and more informed choices" with respect to health providers. However, a key reason the National Law prohibits the use of testimonials in advertising is that testimonials "may misrepresent the skills and/or expertise of practitioner". The ADA is aware of cases where Whitecoat's reviews displayed very positive reviews and ratings for practitioners whom the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) had suspended the practitioner's registration.
With the controversy surrounding HealthEngine raising some serious questions about the way online sites use and present data, the ADA believes government regulators need to closely monitor the content that appears on Whitecoat, and that the public needs to think carefully before using the service whose information may not be as trustworthy as it is purported to be.