Health officials say personal information on a dozen patients may have been leaked after hackers compromised the email account of a British Columbia doctor.

The Fraser Health Authority confirmed that the names of 12 patients and the care card numbers of two patients were potentially accessed by an outside source last month. However, it is not believed that any medical records were accessed.

“We have no reason to believe that the 12 patients here were the target of this scam and that their information was the focus,” Roy Thorpe-Dorward of the Fraser Health Authority told CTV News British Columbia on Thursday.

Rather, Thorpe-Dorward said the hackers were likely attempting to gain control of the Surrey doctor’s email account to undertake a “phishing scam”, in which a number of emails are sent from what appears to be a trustworthy source. Email recipients are then tricked into revealing personal information.

“If you receive an email from your doctor and you expect an appointment, of course you don’t question it,” said security expert Vaclav Vincalek of Pacific Coast Information Systems.

The patients whose email addresses were compromised were offered one year of free credit card monitoring.

Other security breaches

The email hack is the latest occurrence in which personal medical information in the province was compromised.

Last year, the information of 450 surgical patients at Vancouver General Hospital was compromised after a medical resident lost a laptop at an airport.

The province’s health minister announced in September that four Ministry of Health employees were fired and three were suspended without pay after a police investigation revealed that personal health information had been inappropriately shared between staff and drug companies.

In November, Vancouver Coastal Health fired an employee who accessed the medical records of several local media personalities.

Ontario’s privacy commissioner launched an investigation in 2009 after sensitive medical information of more than 83,000 individuals who attended flu clinics in Durham Region disappeared. Provincial health officials said a USB key containing the names, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth and health card numbers of patients who attended H1N1 vaccination clinics went missing.

With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Nafeesa Karim