Patient information may be exposed in UC Davis health system breach

UC Davis Health System officials are notifying 1,800 patients that their personal or medical information may be compromised after three doctors were hit with an email phishing scam.

The physicians’ email accounts were exposed to malicious software in the mid-December security breach, health system spokesperson Charles Casey said. He said the doctors assumed the email came from the I-T department when they opened it but instead were phishing scams.

The emails contained patients’ names, medical record numbers and limited information associated with a clinic or hospital visits. The emails did not list credit card or Social Security numbers.

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UC Davis Medical Center issued the following statement yesterday:

UC Davis Health System is in the process of notifying approximately 1,800 patients that emails containing their personal or medical information may have been compromised by an Internet phishing scam that affected three UC Davis clinicians in mid-December. The breach does not appear to have an identity-theft component, nor does it include access to the electronic health records of patients or their personal financial information.

The phishing scam compromised three physicians’ email accounts, which means that malicious software could potentially provide access to their email, some of which contained patient health information. While data security experts are unable to determine the exact nature of the breach or whether any messages were specifically read, they say that the automated nature of typical phishing scams makes it unlikely that content from individual messages was viewed. The content of patient information in the emails consisted primarily of name, medical record number and limited information associated with a clinic visit or hospital admission. No patient credit card or Social Security numbers were contained in the messages.

The clinicians first noticed the problem when they experienced the deletion of emails from their accounts and found their email was being used to send messages to addresses outside the health system, presumably to obtain personal financial information, passwords and other individual identifiers.

UC Davis Health System’s email program is encrypted, and there are measures in place to prevent intrusions like this one from occurring, including email filtering, cyber surveillance and staff training and education. Immediate actions to protect patient privacy were taken when it was discovered these emails were compromised, including deleting the phishing email from other staff accounts, blocking access to the phishing website, and actively warning UC Davis staff about the scam.

UC Davis Health System has notified, or will be notifying, several government agencies – the California Department of Public Health, California Attorney General’s office and the federal Office of Civil Rights – about the breach.

Patients with questions about the incident may call the health system’s Compliance Department at 916-734-8808 for additional information or advice.

UC Davis Health System is improving lives and transforming health care by providing excellent patient care, conducting groundbreaking research, fostering innovative, interprofessional education, and creating dynamic, productive partnerships with the community. The academic health system includes one of the country’s best medical schools, a 619-bed acute-care teaching hospital, a 1000-member physician’s practice group and the new Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. It is home to a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, an international neurodevelopmental institute, a stem cell institute and a comprehensive children’s hospital. Other nationally prominent centers focus on advancing telemedicine, improving vascular care, eliminating health disparities and translating research findings into new treatments for patients. Together, they make UC Davis a hub of innovation that is transforming health for all. For more information, visit

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