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Newspapers win access to physicians' names in state database

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NEW YORK--The names of physicians in a statewide Health Department database must be released to The New York Times and…

NEW YORK–The names of physicians in a statewide Health Department database must be released to The New York Times and Newsday, a unanimous state appeals court in Albany ruled in late June.

The court rejected the Health Department’s contention that disclosure of the physicians’ names, coupled with data already released, would lead to the identification of individual patients.

“Such speculation falls far short of ‘articulating a particularized and specific justification for denying access,'” as the state Freedom of Information Law requires, Justice D. Bruce Crew III wrote. The release of the doctors’ identities will not result in an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, the court said.

In 1995, the newspapers requested all data in the Statewide Planning and Research Corporation System (SPARCS), a centralized health care database that contains information on patient admissions to hospitals, residential care facilities and surgical clinics.

After the initial requests and administrative appeals were denied, the newspapers filed suit in Albany. The Health Department agreed to disclose the names of hospitals and the identity of insurers, but refused to release physician names. The lower court ordered the names disclosed and the Health Department appealed. (In the Matter of New York Times Co. v. New York State Department of Health, Media Counsel: Adam Liptak, New York)