An online health appointment booking service backed by Telstra and Seven West Media has been questioned by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, after the watchdog received a complaint alleging the business was engaging in anti-competitive conduct.
However, the chief executive of HealthEngine has told SmartCompany the company has done nothing wrong.
HealthEngine is one of the larger players in the growing Australian market for online health appointment booking services. The business was founded in 2006 and has strategic partnerships with both Telstra and Seven West Media.
The ACCC contacted some of HealthEngine’s competitors in April after receiving a complaint about the company. A document seen by SmartCompany shows there are three allegations of anti-competitive conduct.
The first relates to HealthEngine allegedly offering a GP Access Grant to health practices on the condition they agree to subscribe to HealthEngine’s services exclusively for 12 months.
The complaint also alleges HealthEngine provided some of its online booking services for free to GP practices who are accredited with Australian General Practice Accreditation Limited (AGPAL), and thirdly, HealthEngine is accused of targeting its competitors’ clients to offer its services for free or at heavily discounted prices if they were to switch to HealthEngine.
The ACCC said in the document the practices may raise implications under sections of the Competition and Consumer Act, although the ACCC had “not yet formed a view about whether HealthEngine has contravened the Act”.
A spokesperson for the ACCC told SmartCompany the ACCC is unable to comment on potential investigations or complaints received, but said the regulator’s 2015 Enforcement and Compliance policy “identified competition and consumer issues in the health sector as a priority”.
Dr Marcus Tan, medical director and chief executive of HealthEngine, confirmed to SmartCompany the ACCC had contacted HealthEngine.
“The ACCC were keen to better understand our business and the markets we participate in and we have assisted them with their queries,” Tan says.
“We have taken this ‘complaint’ seriously and have sought legal opinion, which has led us to believe that we have not engaged in any anti-competitive conduct.”
Tan says HealthEngine is proud to partner with AGPAL and “delighted we can offer our services to practices who have a mutual commitment to delivering quality outcomes for patients”.
“Our arrangements with AGPAL are neither unique not anti-competitive in nature and is reflective of typical commercial arrangements made by membership organisations all the time and provided as a member benefit,” Tan says.
But Tan says he is not surprised about the timing of the complaint as competition in the industry heats up.
Research firm Frost & Sullivan has recently estimated just 3% of health practitioners in Australia are currently taking appointment bookings online but the market is poised for rapid growth as more providers come on board.
However, Tan says HealthEngine is the “clear market leader … [and] the only ones that offer a true network and marketplace”.
“We are like the ‘Trip Adviser for Health’ and are used by over 6 million Australians annually to find great health practitioners and book health appointments online all from the one site and mobile app,” Tan says, adding that HealthEngine works with “several thousand” private health practices, including GPs, dental, allied health and specialist practitioners.
“We are fortunate to have a different business model and several other product offerings to combat the commoditisation of the online booking industry and can therefore provide a unique offering, which has clearly resonated with the market and our customers.”
“In particular, we have experienced significant revenue growth across our multiple revenue streams in the last six months.”