KAISER PERMANENTE: ‘Glitch’ Sends Emails to Wrong Members
Kaiser Permanente admitted yesterday that it had mistakenly sent to 19 of its members emails intended for 858 other patients, blaming the error on a "glitch" that occurred after the installation of new software. The misdirected messages contained information ranging from "routine matters," such as appointment scheduling to more "sensitive" health information, including one member's question about a sexually transmitted disease. Many of the emails also included the full names and contact information of their intended recipients. Kaiser officials said the incident, which occurred Aug. 2, was not a security breach of its Internet system but instead happened when a technician began sending out hundreds of emails that had backlogged while he was upgrading the insurer's Web site. "We are conducting an investigation to ensure this won't happen again," Kaiser spokesperson Beverly Hayon added. Company officials said they have tried to phone each of the 858 affected members, reaching 687 -- most of whom were "very gracious" when told of the problem -- as of last night (Brubaker, Washington Post, 8/10). The insurer also contacted the 19 actual recipients, all of whom said they had deleted the messages. Beth Givans, director of the San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearing House, noted that such confidentiality breaches can happen with paper-based mailings as well, but that "the scale [of mistakes] can be grander in the online world." She added that health plans must build in strong privacy safeguards as they move more information onto the Internet, suggesting that patients might want to "wait until the bugs have been worked out" before submitting private information to insurers online. Some 250,000 of Kaiser's 11 million members use the insurer's Web site, which allows patients to make appointments, order prescription refills and ask health questions (Salganik, Baltimore Sun, 8/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.