Ambulance chasing through data sharing? Health app accused of sharing personal health information with law firm

By Cameron Abbott and Sarah Goegan

The idea of lawyers “ambulance chasing” seems to have taken on a new form. An investigation by the ABC has revealed how technology is being used to share health information with lawyers to generate work.

The ABC has revealed that HealthEngine, Australia’s largest online doctor’s appointment booking service, shared daily lists of prospective clients with law firm Slater and Gordon, based on personal medical information shared by users with the app.

The app allows users to book appointments with various health professionals such as GPs, dentists and physiotherapists. To make an appointment, HealthEngine asks users to provide details of their symptoms and medical conditions, including whether they suffered a workplace injury or were in a traffic accident.

The client lists passed were based on users’ medical information as part of a “referral partnership pilot” in 2017. Slater and Gordon received the details of an average 200 clients per month between March-August last year.

The ABC also revealed that Slater and Gordon had an ongoing referral partnership with PreLegal – a telemarketing company which the ABC claims was paid $1,290 for each new client it recruited for workplace injury and traffic accident compensation claims in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.

The arrangement has been likened to “claim-farming” – telemarketers trying to recruit clients for personal injury claims and then selling the client referrals to law firms. The practice is banned in some states and against ethical guidelines in others.

Slater & Gordan has denied that it is in breach of its legal and ethical obligations, and that any marketing it undertakes is compliant with those obligations. Both HealthEngine and PreLegal stated that they did not share personal information of users or contact members of the public without consent. However, HealthEngine’s privacy policy does not mention sharing personal information for third party marketing.


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