The Use of Electronic Signatures in the Healthcare Industry

The Use of Electronic Signatures in the Healthcare Industry

Technology has been positively contributing to the growth of the healthcare industry. From patient registration and data monitoring to laboratory tests and the tools used to schedule checkups, it is apparent that technology plays a major role in almost all the processes involved in healthcare.

Changes in global and statewide healthcare protocols impact the way healthcare facilities conduct their day-to-day processes. They need to adhere to set regulations to ensure that citizens receive the highest quality care. Thus, to be more effective, they need to search for and adopt new methods and solutions to integrate not only into their treatment processes but also their administrative workflows.

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the way businesses operate. The healthcare industry has seen its impact first-hand. Patients demand better procedures from healthcare facilities to avoid the spread of or catching the virus. Most healthcare facilities no longer accept walk-ins unless emergency cases; therefore, patients need to schedule an appointment with their doctors before being allowed entry to a facility. Medical professionals and patients have to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Contact tracing procedures have been set up. Every individual must strictly observe physical distancing guidelines.

Reducing physical contact increases the protection of individuals from COVID-19. By implementing smart solutions, particularly the adoption of digital solutions safety measures become tougher. Automating traditional paper-involved processes reduces physical contact remarkably. Healthcare facilities, instead of handing patients printouts and pens to fill out and sign documents, can employ electronic signature solutions. Utilizing e-signature solutions enable patients to complete documents using only their device.

The legality of Electronic Signatures

Electronic signatures or also referred to as e-signatures are signatures on electronic documents created using any electronic device. Through enacted laws on electric signatures, including the United States Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (ESIGN) Act and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), electronic signatures were granted the same legal status as traditional wet-ink signatures. Nevertheless, electronic signature laws have requirements before an electronic signature can be valid. Both the ESIGN Act and UETA have four requirements:

  1. Similar to ink-on-paper signatures, the signatories should explicitly express their intent to sign.
  2. The signatories must consent to conduct business electronically.
  3. The system or platform used by the signatories to sign must keep a record that reflects the process and provide a statement or proof of transaction that will prove that the signatories executed electronic signatures.
  4. The system or platform used to sign must retain electronic signature records for future reference and use by signatories.

Electronic signatures must also be compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), particularly when electronically signing HIPAA forms. In essence, HIPAA exists to give medical patients control and access to their health information. While there are no set rules that exist under HIPAA for electronic signatures, the general rule is to ensure that electronic signatures are compliant with and satisfy the requirements of the applicable electronic signature laws. As long using electronic signatures do not violate any laws, there will not be violations against HIPAA rules.

Advantages of Electronic Signatures in Healthcare

Introducing electronic signature solutions to the healthcare industry has several upsides. While the majority of healthcare facilities still use physical documents and wet-ink signatures, utilizing electronic signatures is an upgrade that results in noteworthy, positive changes.

Simplified documentation

Healthcare facilities keep and maintain records of their clients. These records include personal and health information.

Doctors need to sign the patient documents after consultations for validation, when issuing medical reports, certificates, and prescriptions, and when approving to conduct or lead medical procedures. Using an electronic signature application enables them to sign any electronic documents in minutes. On the other hand, patients can fill out and sign forms and approve medical processes. Both medical professionals and patients can benefit from using software that offers electronic signature solutions.

Without going to a hospital facility, patients can sign documents no matter their location and using their smart device. Such an advantage saves time, money, and effort of healthcare personnel and patients.

Secure medical records

Due to health data being valuable and hence should be private, patients are protected by data privacy laws. Moreover, security is of the utmost importance when storing the records of patients. 

Unlike physical documents that can easily be misplaced, lost, or stolen, electronically signed documents are stored securely in the cloud. Only authorized healthcare professionals can access the records of their patients. When documents are accessed, all activities done to them are recorded in a digital log.

Storing documents in file cabinets makes locating them often difficult. A secure electronic signature application eliminates the use of bulky file cabinets and improves the security of file keeping.

Electronic signature applications enable healthcare professionals to share documents with other professionals for accurate patient management. Sharing of documents can be done securely and in just a matter of minutes, regardless of their locations. Some applications utilize Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) technology to restrict unauthorized access. 

Cost savings

Traditional paper-based processes in healthcare facilities are not just time-consuming but also costly and inefficient in the long run. The cost of using papers and pens accumulate over time. Moreover, manual paperwork can lead to financial consequences when documentation errors happen.

Electronic signature applications prevent errors and reduce the cost of paperwork, enabling hospitals and clinics to save and earmark the money for operational improvements.

The employment of electronic signature solutions in the healthcare industry does not only safeguard the personal information of patients and enable doctors to focus on providing the highest quality care. Other processes in healthcare facilities, including billing, onboarding of hospital staff, and procurement of medical supplies, will witness major improvements when electronic signature solutions are utilized.

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