Lost CD spurs hunt by NYS Department of Health

Rick Karlin reports from New York:

A compact disc containing the names of 328,000 New Yorkers with developmental and other health issues has been missing for almost a month, prompting a massive desk-by-desk search at the state Department of Health’s Corning Tower headquarters.

“We have not been able to locate within our Early Intervention program unit one disc out of two discs that we received from New York City,” DOH spokeswoman Claudia Hutton said.

“At this point, we have no reason to believe they’ve left the building.”

Adding to concern is the fear that the disc’s password may be written on the outside, although Hutton said the disc is encrypted and could not be read without advanced technical skill.

The disc contains two decades worth of names, addresses and diagnostic codes for people who received early intervention services in New York City.

[…]

She said the DOH won’t have to notify people whose names are on the disc because it doesn’t contain diagnoses or other medical information that would be covered by federal privacy laws.

Along with the names and addresses, the disc contains codes that relate to the services the individuals received, Hutton said.

Read more in the Times Union.

Although encryption usually provides safe harbor, I’m not sure how the possibility that the password may be written on the disc factors in here. It seems that the strongest argument for not needing to notify is that there are no diagnostic codes. CPT codes for speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc., don’t really reveal that much information. Even so, my preference would be to notify people.

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2 comments to “Lost CD spurs hunt by NYS Department of Health”

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  1. Anonymous - April 20, 2010

    Diagnostic codes do represent health information and is therefore PHI. This appears to meet the HITECH notification criteria.

    • Anonymous - April 20, 2010

      I had the same reaction you did, Ron, but the news report is somewhat confusing as in another statement, the reporter suggests that it may not be diagnostic codes but treatment or service codes – which may not reveal anything specific about the individual’s medical status or health.

      If it was diagnostic (DSM or ICD) codes, then I think it would fall under HIPAA/HITECH, although the encryption may give them safe harbor under the “harm” threshold. If it was just codes for different types of therapy (not even CPT codes but just broader codes for speech therapy, occupational therapy), then they may not be required to notify HHS. I’m not sure.

      If time permits, I will try to dig into this one a bit more to see if I can get some clarification as to exactly what kind of information was on the CD.

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