Kaiser E-Mail Glitch Leaks Private Info

FRAMINGHAM (08/11/2000) - Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation's largest health care providers, has confirmed that a 20-minute computer glitch earlier this month caused e-mail messages containing personal information about hundreds of its members to be sent to the wrong recipients.

On Aug. 2, a batch of 858 e-mail messages containing sensitive information - such as advice about illnesses from an online advice nurse and users' patient identification numbers - was sent to 19 e-mail addresses of other Kaiser members.

According to Kaiser senior vice president and CIO Tim Sullivan, the problem started when the e-mail that was supposed to have been sent inadvertently got backlogged. Meanwhile, a Kaiser employee had written a script to have e-mail sent to 19 other recipients, and the messages that hadn't been sent the first time were mistakenly sent to those addresses. Twenty minutes later, the Kaiser worker discovered the problem and had the e-mails stopped.

Most of the e-mail included patient identification numbers that provide access to Kaiser's online services and information on appointments, said a spokeswoman for the Oakland, Calif., health care organization.

Many of the 19 e-mail addresses were so overloaded by the huge files that their owners couldn't open those messages. Most of the members who did open the messages didn't read them after realizing the information didn't pertain to them, Marshall said. She said most of the 19 recipients contacted Kaiser when they received the numerous messages.

Informing the Users

Most of the 858 users affected by the glitch have been reached by phone and informed of the error, according to the spokeswoman.

She added that Kaiser has offered to change the patient identification numbers of any members who fear that their confidentiality was compromised, but most people haven't asked to have their numbers changed.

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