Company That Violated Privacy Changes Name

May 2, 2000 12:00 am

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BOSTON, MA -- Two years after Elensys Care Services Inc. ran into an explosion of disapproval over its use of confidential prescription records, the Massachusetts database management company has taken an unusual approach to public relations, The Washington Post reported.

It went away.

According to the Post, Elensys dropped its old name, without issuing a press release, and, in state documents filed last fall, quietly became Adheris Inc. The company still helps drug stores to remind patients to take medication on time. It has the same executives, the same address at a Woburn, Mass., office park, the same telephone number. But gone is the name that came to symbolize the growing unease about personal privacy, after people in the Washington region learned that CVS, Giant and other pharmacies were sending personal medical information to Elensys without their permission.

At the time, Elensys used the data to identify customers who had not refilled prescriptions and to send personalized letters urging them to do so. Elensys also sent out materials about drugs, on behalf of manufacturers who paid a fee, to customers with particular ailments.

So fierce was the backlash from customers that CVS and Giant quickly apologized publicly and cut ties to the company. Several customers went after Elensys and its partners in a class-action lawsuit for breaching their privacy. The name "Elensys" is routinely cited during Capitol Hill discussions about privacy.

"I wouldn't blame them for not wanting to be associated with the conduct they're accused of," said Jeffrey Krinsk, a San Diego attorney who has brought a class-action lawsuit against Elensys. "Though it may be old wine in a new bottle, the new bottle will be more useful in terms of public relations, in presenting themselves to new clients."

While such a tactic is unusual, Elensys may not have had much of a choice, said Matthew Gonring, a managing partner at Arthur Andersen and a communications lecturer at Northwestern University. A tainted brand can scare away new clients, he said.

"Once a named is tarnished to a certain degree, it's less expensive to start up under another name," he said. "That can be a legitimate business choice."

Adheris officials declined to be interviewed, but in an e-mail response to questions, executive Matthew P. Glaser said, "We changed the name as part of a branding process for the company." He added: "As a private company, we did not feel it was important to make a public announcement."

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