A covered entity may enter into a business associate agreement with the public health authority for the sole purpose of creating a limited data set, even if the same public health authority is also the intended recipient of the information (45 CFR 164.514(e)(3)(ii)). For example, the covered entity may contract with the public health authority as a business associate for the exclusive purpose of reviewing medical charts and extracting the facially unidentifiable information needed for the particular public health surveillance activity. In these cases, the public health authority, as the covered entity’s business associate for purposes of creating a limited data set, must agree to return, destroy or not remove from the covered entity’s premises the protected health information that includes the direct identifiers, once the public health authority has completed the conversion of the information into a limited data set for its own public health use. Because the public health authority is not only the covered entity’s business associate for creating the limited data set, but also the intended recipient of the limited data set, the public health authority must enter into both a data use agreement and a business associate agreement. The data use agreement can be combined with the business associate agreement into a single agreement so long as the agreement meets the requirements of both provisions. See 45 CFR 164.504(e)(2) and 164.514(e)(4).
While there are two disclosures in this case – the disclosure to the public health authority in its role as the covered entity’s business associate in creating the limited data set, and the disclosure to the public health authority as the recipient of the limited data set – neither disclosure requires an accounting. A disclosure to a business associate for the purpose of creating a limited data set is a health care operation, as defined by the Rule at 45 CFR 164.501. Disclosures for health care operations and disclosures made as a limited data set are both excepted from the accounting requirement at 45 CFR 164.528(a)(1)(i) and (viii), respectively.