- April 12, 2023
- Symphony Ragan, Content Specialist
Electronic signatures have become even more essential to hospital processes in recent years. In fact, with a 2016 study showing that 96% of hospitals in the U.S. are using EHR (electronic health record) systems following the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) of 2009, electronic signature usage has become even more essential.
Have you ever stopped to look around a hospital and marvel at the well-oiled machine that it is? Doctors and nurses working in sync, administrators managing thousands of incoming and outgoing patient data, and patients being strategically and professionally cared for around the clock.
A lot of skill, hard work, and dedication goes into the management of a hospital. Fortunately, various software and applications have been developed to support hospital staff and ensure they can continue providing the best patient care. EHR software, medical billing software, medical imaging software, prescription (RX) software, and electronic signature software options have become integral tools for hospital personnel to keep things running smoothly.
The HITECH Act
The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) was introduced and signed into law in 2009 to streamline the sharing and maintenance of health information technology.
Since HITECH was introduced, the volume of hospitals using electronic health records (EHR) systems went from 10% to 96%; this is a remarkable and impactful change because it allows hospitals, vendors, healthcare professionals, and patients to benefit from:
- Better organized patient data
- More secure personal health information (PHI)
- Faster communication and coordination
- More efficiently scheduled and approved procedures and care
- Improved accessibility to medical history
- Easier compliance with HIPAA
HIPAA and Electronic Signatures
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was established in 1996 to outline and regulate requirements of those in the healthcare industry to communicate clearly and consistently through a singular billing system (currently ICD-10), reduce fraud, and implement protection for patients’ PHI.
The use of electronic signatures by healthcare professionals has directly supported HIPAA compliance requirements by providing more stable record auditing, quicker providing and approval of privacy policies and procedure requests, and more efficient and accessible data sharing.
eSigning in a Hospital Setting
During an average hospital day, electronic signatures are used in various ways. Below are some of the most common ways eSignatures support vital medical processes for staff and patients throughout the hospital setting.
Charting is a vital process in hospitals that documents patient medical history, health complaints, observations, and anything pertinent to care. Doctors, physician assistants, nurses, physical therapists, and patients often need to sign off on chart notes. This critical process can be efficiently conducted with electronic signatures from patient bedsides or anywhere within the hospital.
With electronic signatures, physicians and nurses can easily prescribe vital medication on the go and while visiting patients. Digital RXs and electronic signatures have made patient care during hospitalization much more accessible and streamlined the discharge process by allowing prescriptions to be sent directly to the pharmacy for filling.
With electronic signatures integrated into medical billing software, billing specialists can get agreements signed, bill patients and insurance companies, receive payment, and provide receipts faster than ever before.
In hospitals, time is often of the essence. Electronic signatures play a pivotal role in ensuring patients, their families, and doctors can approve urgent and necessary patient procedures quickly and easily.
Pharmacists can ensure timely vendor deliveries and tracking of released medication by incorporating electronic signatures into their systems. Pharmacists can track medications from order to dispensation with digital signatures, all with a few button presses.
Vendor Scheduling and Payment
It takes a lot to keep hospitals running smoothly. Ensuring streamlined vendor purchases and deliveries is essential. With electronic signatures and digital ordering, hospital administrators can provide PPE, food, medication, medical devices, cleaning supplies, and more delivered regularly and on time.
Patient Privacy Notices
HIPAA law requires that patient privacy notices are provided promptly and signed at the time of service and that records of patient acknowledgment are kept for at least seven years (sometimes 10 for Medicare), along with patient chart notes and medical records. Digitizing this process has allowed healthcare workers to bypass lengthy paperwork waiting periods and provide faster patient care.
Every healthcare worker and hospital is familiar with the dreaded audit. While not a fun process, it’s necessary and can go much smoother when medical records and their coinciding history are easily accessible to auditors. During the auditing process, inspectors must be able to see the trail of ownership and possession. Fortunately, digital signatures allow easy proof of when, where, and who signed each document.
Using Electronic Signatures Correctly and Compliantly in a Hospital Setting
As with most hospital processes, electronic signatures must be used clearly, correctly, compliantly, and intentionally. Guidelines must be strictly followed and implemented for eSignature usage in hospital settings because misuse can lead to liability situations and errors.
Keeping the following guidelines in mind for electronic signature usage can help ensure electronic signatures are used successfully.
Familiarize yourself with applicable compliance regulations that the hospital and its providers need to follow. Restrictions and guidance from ESIGN, UETA, and HIPAA will dictate what you can and cannot do with medical paperwork.
Ensure Terms and Consent Are Clear
As ESIGN, UETA, and HIPAA compliance laws require, clear terms and consent must be displayed on the digital documents while patients and healthcare professionals sign. Ensure a clear indication and agreement to sign the paperwork digitally is presented and provide easy navigational directions throughout the signing process.
Make Securely Shareable Documents
Ensure that you can safely and securely share signed documents with the appropriate parties via email or direct access logins.
The signing process should be traceable from start to finish, tracking who signed it, when it was signed, who has viewed it, and where the document was sent upon completion; this will be helpful to prevent fraud, ensure patient privacy, and streamline any official auditing process.
Foxit eSign is structured with essential features that can help hospitals ensure signing processes are easy and secure for patients and healthcare providers. Our experts are familiar with the needs of hospitals and healthcare providers. They will work with you to integrate our signature solution directly into the hospital software and processes you already have in place, ensuring you, your patients, and your doctors don’t skip a beat.