Almost 1 million UW Medicine patients’ information was exposed last year due to a data error, according to a news release from the Seattle-based organization.
An error in a database configuration made protected internal files temporarily available online and visible via search. The files became accessible on December 4, 2018, due to internal human error. But UW Medicine didn’t become aware of it until December 26, when a patient conducted a Google search for their name and located a file with their information.
UW fixed the error on December 26. However, Google had saved some files before that date. Thus, UW Medicine worked with Google to remove the saved versions and stop them from showing up in search results. All the files were removed from Google servers by January 10.
The files contained patients’ names, medical record numbers, with whom UW Medicine shared the information, a description of what information about you was shared (such as “office visits”) and the reason for the disclosure (like mandatory reporting). In some cases, the files included the name of a performed lab test (but not the result) or the name of a research study that included a health condition.
Medical records, patient financial information and Social Security numbers were not contained in the files, according to the news release.
UW Medicine has started sending letters to the approximately 974,000 patients who were impacted. It has also reported the incident to HHS’ Office for Civil Rights. To provide patients with additional information and answer questions, ID Experts, a vendor, is managing a call center and website on behalf of UW Medicine.
“We regret that this incident occurred and sincerely apologize for any distress this may cause our patients and their families,” the Seattle organization said in the news release. “UW Medicine is committed to providing quality care while protecting patients’ personal information. We are reviewing our internal protocols and procedures to prevent this from happening again.”
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