A Sydney judge has told an online medical appointment service it should be fined more than $2.9 million for censoring negative reviews and selling patient information.
The country's largest medical booking platform, HealthEngine, is being pursued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in the Federal Court for deceptive and misleading conduct.
The court on Friday heard the company - whose app and website host bookings for more than 70,000 health providers and is used by over one million customers per month - is set to cop a multi-million dollar fine.
Justice David Yates refused to accept the agreed settlement amount of $2.9 million, saying that by his calculations the company had made at least $3 million stemming from the offending conduct.
"That would be a very respectable cost of doing business," Justice Yates said.
HealthEngine has been accused of altering negative reviews of healthcare practices and on-selling personal information to private health insurance brokers.
The ACCC has alleged that from April 2014 to June 2018, the company provided the information of 135,000 patients to third parties in return for a fee.
The court heard HealthEngine made more than $1.8 million by selling personal information - including patients' names, phone numbers and dates of birth - to nine insurance brokers.
While making a booking, each patient was asked whether they had private health insurance.
If they answered "no", they were asked whether they were interested in a health insurance comparison service or whether they needed advice on finding an insurer.
If they then answered "yes", their information was then sold to brokers, however the company used language which suggested HealthEngine would be providing the advice.
The company is also accused of refusing to publish negative reviews of healthcare providers and altering others to delete paragraphs containing criticism.
Of the 128,000 reviews received it published just 50,000, the ACCC has alleged.
After each booking made via the company's app or website, the patient was asked if they would recommend the practice.
If less than 80 per cent of people who attended the healthcare provider answered "yes", HealthEngine would not publish a rating for the practice and instead would attach a note saying: "There is currently insufficient data to calculate a patient satisfaction level."
The court heard the company received money for more than 1.3 million patient referrals, with Justice Yates querying how much had been made from them.
Lawyers for the ACCC and HealthEngine were unable to provide a breakdown of the income the company derived from each referral.
Justice Yates said that if it was just $1 the company would have made more than $1.3 million - though he noted it was likely more.
He said that amount, combined with the $1.8 million the company made from the insurance broker referrals, was more than the $2.9 million fine being suggested.
"Adding up the two amounts, it gets you well over $3 million, yet I'm asked to accept that it's appropriate that a global penalty of $2.9 million should be imposed which would yield a profit to the respondent," Justice Yates said.
The company asked for more time to provide information about its finances and the matter will return to court on July 1.
Australian Associated Press