The federal government will pay HealthEngine nearly $4 million for a COVID-19 vaccination bookings platform following a secretive limited tender process.
The Western Australia-based medical appointment booking company announced in early March that it had been selected to develop the bookings platform as part of the federal government’s end-to-end vaccination information and bookings service.
It came just months after HealthEngine was fined $2.9 million as part of court proceedings brought forward by the competition watchdog for “misleading conduct” relating to the sharing of user information with private health insurance companies and for publishing misleading reviews and ratings.
Details of the contract have now been revealed publicly, more than a month after it was awarded. HealthEngine will be paid $3.85 million as part of the one-year contract for the “national vaccine booking system”, running from 2 March to 1 March 2022.
The contract was awarded following a limited tender process as this was deemed necessary to “facilitate a speedy procurement … to protect human health”.
This limited tender process involved HealthEngine being selected from a panel of booking solution vendors in February.
The platform will be primarily used by pharmacies and other health clinics without existing booking systems, and has been used since the start of phase 1b of the vaccination rollout.
“The system is a light-touch platform that will help consumers to more easily access vaccines. It will allow consumers to make appointments for both vaccine doses at a clinic most convenient to them,” a Department of Health spokesperson said.
“It will also send appointment confirmations and reminders, and allow consumers to take control of their vaccinations.”
The bookings platform experienced problems when it was launched in mid-March, struggling under overwhelming demand. Health minister Greg Hunt said he was “not surprised” by this, and that it was due to an “initial surge and initial demand”.
The platform was initially not allowing people to book in for vaccinations, telling patients that most clinics were only taking phone bookings. It has also been revealed that the Health Engine platform is allowing patients to book in for their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccination just days after receiving the first dose, despite the recommendation for several weeks in between doses.
HealthEngine was fined $2.9 million in August last year over “misleading conduct” after it handed over non-clinical personal information of more than 135,000 patients to third-party health insurance brokers without adequately disclosing this to the users. The company earned more than $1.8 million through these arrangements.
The company was also found to have not published about 17,000 reviews and had edited about 3,000 reviews to remove negative aspects or embellish them.
A Department of Health spokesperson said this incident was “historical” and HealthEngine has since improved its “privacy and security processes and authentication”.