- April 12, 2023
- Symphony Ragan, Content Specialist
A growing number of things we do daily are performed remotely or online. Everyday errands and tasks like reading the news, grocery shopping, and even going to the doctor are increasingly going digital.
The number of telehealth visits in the U.S. grew by 4000% in April 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the pandemic, many healthcare providers faced the challenge of providing care online for the first time. This change meant that things like HIPAA compliance and securing protected health information (PHI) required new processes and presented new challenges many practices weren’t used to.
Providers could no longer hand a clipboard and a pen to a patient and ask them to complete a stack of forms – So how could healthcare providers collect signatures on privacy notices and other paperwork conveniently, securely, and compliantly? This challenge is where electronic signature software comes in.
Electronic signature software offers a simple solution to this problem of eHealthcare. But beyond simply allowing for the provision of care without ever interacting with a patient face-to-face, this software has many benefits for healthcare practices.
It doesn’t matter whether you are seeing patients in person or online. Electronic signature software can transform workflows and streamline operations.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at electronic signature software and its pivotal role in helping small healthcare practices seamlessly interact with patients and complete day-to-day requirements – no matter where the patient or healthcare personnel are.
How Can You Use Electronic Signatures in Healthcare?
Electronic signatures have cemented themselves as a critical tool for hospitals, healthcare clinics, insurance companies, and doctors’ offices of all sizes. Not only are electronic signatures making it easier for healthcare professionals to communicate remotely with patients, but they are also simplifying and streamlining many critical daily processes.
In 2009, the Obama administration introduced the HITECH Act. This act encouraged the adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) by healthcare providers to improve patient record security and allow for easier monitoring of HIPAA compliance.
When the HITECH Act was signed into law, only 10% of hospitals were using EHRs. Nine years later, 86% of office-based physicians had switched from paper to electronic health records. With so many health records now being stored electronically, adopting electronic signatures is a natural progression.
Some common healthcare forms that can be signed using electronic signatures include:
- Patient admission and intake forms
- Patient consent forms and releases
- Chart notes and patient medical records
- Procedure approvals
- Claims processing
- Staff onboarding documents
When signed electronically, healthcare forms can seamlessly integrate into a patient’s EHR, allowing healthcare professionals to ensure better compliance and more seamless operations. Below, we’ll look at some benefits of using electronic signatures in small healthcare practices.
The Benefits of eSignature Software for Small Healthcare Practices
Electronic signatures naturally go hand-in-hand with the requirements of electronic health records within the healthcare community. But there are also many reasons why you might consider using electronic signature software for a healthcare practice to improve all-over processes. Here are some of the main benefits most relevant to the small and independent healthcare practice industry.
Accuracy and Completion
When creating digital documents for electronic signing, the configurations can be set to require that specific fields are filled out. Documents can only be completed with all necessary signature fields signed before it is accepted and considered complete.
You will no longer discover that a patient has left a required field blank or forgotten to sign the final page of their paperwork packet.
Increased Organizational Efficiency
Electronic signatures can dramatically increase efficiency with paperwork completion. Documents signed by hand do not need to be scanned to generate electronic copies to file in a patient’s EHR – they can be saved and uploaded into patient files. Or, if the electronic signature software is integrated with the medical software used, the entire process can be automated.
Workflow is dramatically improved when eSignatures are introduced. Additionally, many eSignature software solutions automate filing. They can automatically send signed documents to be filed in the appropriate location.
Reduced Wait Times
Much of the wait time in healthcare settings can be attributed to time spent filling out paperwork and waiting for paperwork to be received. Using eSignature software, necessary paperwork, prescriptions, medical records, and approvals can be shared in seconds.
With electronic signatures in use, patients can fill out intake paperwork before they get to the office, telehealth appointments can easily be handled, physicians can send prescriptions straight to the pharmacy, and EHR can be filed away in a few clicks.
Sign from Anywhere
Electronic signature software allows you to sign securely from anywhere, which is especially important with the increase in telehealth visits. This action also means that signed documents can be returned to the sender almost instantaneously and that healthcare professionals can quickly and easily collaborate with their colleagues on patient care.
Secure and Legally Binding
The Electronic Signature in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN) was passed in 2000. With its passage, eSignatures have been given the same legal status as pen and ink signatures. Therefore, documents signed electronically are legally binding when they meet specific requirements:
- Must demonstrate a clear intent to sign
- Must have consented to electronic business
- A clear signature association record must be maintained
- A clear signature attribution (audit trail) should be present
- There must be an easy retention method or way to produce documents as needed
Security efforts are also essential with electronic signatures used in the healthcare industry. Because most information patients share is sensitive and confidential, proper security protocols must be in place. eSignature products can use methods like encryption, signing certificates, audit trails, and more to ensure the security of all documents signed using their platform.
With Foxit eSign, security is at the forefront of everything we do. From SOC 2 Type 2 compliance to dynamic encryption, helpful visibility controls, audit trails, and more, you can feel confident that your patient’s signed documents are kept secure and confidential.
Minimize Clutter and Go Paperless
By converting records to electronic records, you allow your practice the convenience of going paperless.
Whether it’s PHI or personnel files, your records can be kept entirely electronically while signatures are used to ensure an easy workflow. Electronic records are easier to navigate during a HIPAA audit, simplify organization, and make it easier to get things done overall.
Not only does the paperless process minimize clutter, but it also reduces costs. When you take things digital, you will spend less on printing, mailing, scanning, and storing paper documents.
How Can You Continue to Secure PHI and Stay HIPAA-Compliant?
HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, was first signed into law in 1996. HIPAA protects patient privacy, and under HIPAA, a patient’s PHI cannot be shared without consent, and any sharing must be done under the strictest of rules and guidance.
Particularly notable is the HIPAA Security Rule. This rule places specific requirements on the storage of electronically protected health information. The provisions ensure that it is secured just as much as paper files.
To be considered legitimate under HIPAA, eSignatures must also consider the federal guidelines in the UETA and ESIGN Act. They place additional guidelines on electronic signatures. Specifically, they outline the security and authentication required for a legitimate eSignature. By choosing the right electronic software signing solution, such as Foxit eSign, you can ensure all legal and compliant requirements mentioned above are met thoroughly and consistently at all times – leaving you and your patients confident that your private and confidential information is in good hands.