What Is a Business Associate Agreement?

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Two professionals shaking hands (Image: anyaberkut/iStock/Getty Images)

A business agreement governs the relationship between two parties who are exchanging information and services. The agreement serves as a guideline for how the information may be used so that both parties are properly protected in case of legal problems. A business associate agreement is a particular kind of document used primarily to regulate how health information is treated.

HIPAA Requirements

While there are many business agreements, a business associate agreement is a particular contract used by the health industry to regulate information dissemination and storage between health organizations and patients. This agreement directly stems from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA. This act included the definitions and terms used to create business associate agreements.

Associate Requirements

The definitions in a business associate agreement are based on how protected health information is treated. If one party is creating, accessing, using, disclosing or storing protected health information to carry out a particular task for the covered entity -- often the patient or a related organization -- that is the business associate. This classification includes entities involved in claims processing, data analysis, billing, record storage and many other health care fields.

What It Does

The business associate agreement governs the use of protected health information, specifically by entities who are not doctors or hospitals. This means that those who are actually performing medical treatments or operations do not need to use the agreements. They are documents intended to allow other entities in the health care process to have the same access to protected health information as doctors and related organizations do.

Health Information

In a typical situation, a patient will sign a business associate agreement, authorizing disclosure of certain health information. The agreement includes which health information is being disclosed, who is able to make this disclosure, the only people or entities that the disclosure can be made to, and an expiration date at which the information can no longer be disclosed.

Use of Information

The agreement also specifies how the heath information will be used by the business associate. The associate must have various safeguards in place to protect the information properly and is required to report any unauthorized use of the information immediately. The patient or related entity signed the agreement has the ability to revoke the disclosure in the case of certain events, some of which can trigger an automatic termination of the agreement itself.

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