Kaiser Glitch Releases Private Patient Information

FRAMINGHAM (08/10/2000) - Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation's largest health-care providers, today confirmed that a 20-minute computer glitch caused e-mail messages containing personal information about some of its members to be sent to the wrong recipients.

On Aug. 2, 858 e-mail messages containing sensitive information such as advice about illnesses from an online advice nurse and users' personal identification numbers (PIN), were sent to 19 e-mail addresses of other Kaiser members.

According to senior vice president and CIO Tim Sullivan, the problem started when a batch of 858 e-mails that were supposed to have been sent inadvertently got backlogged. Meanwhile, an employee wrote a script to have e-mails sent to 19 other recipients, and the e-mails that hadn't been sent the first time were sent to those addresses. Twenty minutes later, the worker discovered the problem and had the e-mails stopped.

Most of the e-mails included PIN numbers that allow access to Kaiser's online services and information on appointments, said Laura Marshall, a Kaiser spokeswoman.

Many of the 19 e-mail addresses were so overloaded by the huge files that their owners couldn't open them. The members who did open the e-mails 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 huge e-mails.

Marshall said that most of the 858 users affected by the glitch had been reached by phone and informed of the error. She added that Kaiser has offered to change any PINs of members who fear that their confidentiality was compromised, but most people haven't asked to have their PINs changed.

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