The healthcare industry is traditionally an industry well known for paper trails. While my own doctor now keeps digital patient data, I remember the times – not that long ago – when my dentist and doctor had shelves upon shelves full of paper documents containing patients’ personal information and respective health data.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – think registration documents, patient consent forms, discharge notes, invoices, notice of privacy practices, provider agreements, HIPAA forms, medical trial applications…the list is endless. Many of these documents must be kept for years (up to 30, can you believe it?) to comply with government regulatory requirements.
Digital Signatures in Healthcare
However, change is coming to the healthcare sector. Nowadays, notes are taken in a digital format, appointments are confirmed via email, and health data is exchanged between healthcare providers electronically.
While this trend is welcome and overdue, it poses new challenges. Personal health information is some of the most worthy of protection: it needs to be secure, while also being readily accessible. It needs to be stored, often for many years, and must comply with potentially evolving government regulations.
Digital transformation is only truly possible if existing processes can move to a digital era. This requires trust, security and privacy.
Then vs. Now – The Evolution of Digital Signatures in Healthcare
Not very long ago most processes in the healthcare sector would go like this: An administrator would print a registration form or agreement to a medical procedure document. The patient would apply a hand-written signature to the document, after which it would be scanned as an electronic medical record and archived in the patient’s files. If the document needed to be accessed for any reason, someone would have to manually retrieve the document. If no longer required, the document would be securely destroyed.
It’s clear to see how this antiquated process can lead to serious problems: delays, loss, high costs in terms of storage and printing, and the labor costs to manage the process.
Digital transformation has made this process considerably easier. The document can be signed digitally on any device, and secure cloud storage can automate the storage, retrieval and disposal process.
While the initial IT setup might seem a higher hurdle initially, the future rewards are plenty.
4 Reasons Why It Pays to Digitally Sign Healthcare Documents
1. Saving Time and Money
Comparing the two processes above it’s clear that digital document signing saves time. The shorter processes require little manual input and function reliably to support healthcare providers.
But digitalization also saves money. After an initial investment to configure and deploy digital signing technology, think of the high labour, physical storage and printing costs that you will save over time. Additional benefits like legal security and environmental impact lead to further financial gains over time.
2. Secure Access to Medical Data
In medical emergencies it is crucial to readily access medical notes. Digitally signed documents can easily and securely be shared between providers, giving access to crucial health information when needed.
Medical trial applications can be signed by different people at the same time, registration forms can be filled in from the comfort of a patient’s home, and discharge notes can be sent digitally to all required parties in a few minutes.
3. Elimination of Bottlenecks
The traditional paper-based process had many bottlenecks. The patient, who would have to sign in person. The doctor, who would need to pass the document over to his admin staff. The postal services, that would need to deliver documents between different providers. Administrative staff who would scan, store and retrieve documents. And if several people needed to review or sign off on a particular document, the process needed to be replicated. This old way of doing things is not only time intensive, it’s prone to errors and loss of information.
Digitally signed documents can be signed, saved, and sent in minutes, and don’t rely on physically moving the document from location to location.
4. Legal Compliance
eIDAS, HIPAA, ESIGN and UTEA are all legislations that may be relevant if you are in the healthcare sector. Depending on your geographic location in the world you will most likely be faced with legislations that directly or indirectly impact the way you store documents, how you acquire signatures or how you securely transmit patient data.
Luckily, digital signatures cover the requirements of the above-mentioned legislations and others.
The Importance of Keeping Patient Data Both Shareable and Confidential
One of the biggest advantages of electronic signatures is that they enable data to be easily shared, while still being kept confidential. But there are different types of electronic signatures, and they differ in the protection and legal status they offer.
Digital signatures and qualified digital signatures offer the highest level of protection – they give you reassurance that the signer is really who they say they are. This is verified with a signer’s digital certificate. They also protect a document from tampering. If someone changes a document after a signature has been applied, an error message will be displayed.
The use of digital signatures effectively allows you to easily sign and share documents, while keeping the content confidential.
Light at the End of the Tunnel: What is Being Done to Get it Right
While many healthcare institutions and providers are just waking up to the pressing need of digitalization and cybersecurity, a few promising initiatives have been in place for the last fewyears.
- Legislations like eIDAS and HIPAA support the move to digitalization and set frameworks of security requirements and standards, establishing strong security at the heart of businesses.
- In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) relies on a platform called Tradeshift, also known as Shared Business Services (SBS), a procurement platform that lists preferred, vetted suppliers. This allows NHS Trusts to pick trusted providers without separately researching all security providers. The streamlined purchasing processes save time and resources for the separate entities, while ensuring they pick approved suppliers that can meet their high security needs. GlobalSign is an approved and trusted provider for cybersecurity and Public Key Infrastructure solutions on Tradeshift.
- Another example of an organization taking important steps to implement digital solutions in the healthcare industry is Impression, a Certified Regional Partner of GlobalSign in South Africa. During the Covid-19 pandemic, they’ve been working with hospitals and other healthcare providers to create safe digital signing processes that limit person-to-person contact.
If you’re a healthcare provider and are interested using digital signatures to your advance, please get in touch, and we’d love to tell you more.