The use of electronic signatures in the business world is increasing day by day. While some industries are lawfully exempt from using electronic signatures, the majority are not. Case in point, the healthcare sector is one of the privileged industries which are legally allowed to use e-signs but only given that, they conform to certain regulations to create a HIPAA compliant electronic signature as stipulated by the federal government in HIPAA Act.
What is HIPAA law?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is the national statute which oversees the protection, security, and privacy of patient information. The observance of HIPAA rules is critically significant for health care providers. Severe penalties and fines have been set for the failure to comply with them. HIPAA developments have sparked extensive changes in the healthcare sector, including the adoption of various data security technologies meant to guarantee the security and privacy of Protected Health Information (PHI).
Protected Health Information or PHI, in this case, includes any data or report about a patient’s health status, disorder, payments, or any associated type of care. It is an expansive definition that usually entails all information reflected in a patient’s medical record. When this info is in electronic form, it is normally termed as electronic Protected Health Information (e-PHI).
The U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently issued the HIPAA Omnibus final rule. This rule takes over from the HHS interim rules which were previously in place; and it makes sure that HIPPA rules go hand in hand with the HITECH Act, which is in charge of data security and privacy protection for electronic health records. Complying with the HIPPA privacy law and the ensuing Omnibus final rule is, therefore, now a basic responsibility for healthcare practitioners and other related organizations.
What is HIPAA notice of private practices?
Healthcare providers are required to give patients a notice which informs them how they intend to use and share their (patients) health information. HIPAA’s notice of private practices also includes the patient’s health privacy rights. Many times, patients receive the notice on their initial visit to the healthcare provider or in the form of mail.
So, are e signatures on medical forms and records legally enforceable?
Medical forms and records are among the type of documents which can be signed electronically. The conditions necessary for electronic signatures under HIPAA law must take into consideration the Uniform Electronic Transaction Act (UETA) and the Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN Act).
Both UETA and ESIGN establish that electronic signatures and forms carry similar weight and legal effect just as handwritten signatures and traditional paper documents. The ESIGN Act particularly states that a signature or document cannot be denied enforceability or legal effect simply because it is in electronic format.
What does HIPAA law require to pass as a HIPAA compliant electronic signature?
Here are some of the key HIPAA requirements in regards to e-signs. First, in order for the electronic signature to be legitimate, the patient must consent to its use and willingly enter into an agreement with the healthcare provider.
Secondly, the process must be completely documented and include a 2-factor technique for identity authentication (such as a photograph or password of some kind). This is to avoid spats about whether the patient who entered into the contract really had the right to do so.
Thirdly, message integrity must be seen. Electronically signed medical documents are also required to acquire properly to prevent unauthorized access. The signature ought to be encrypted and alter-proof, or at least tamper-evident, to stop anyone from tampering or forging a signature.
With that said, not all electronic signature solutions fulfill all these conditions. Therefore, medical practitioners should exercise due diligence in finding a reliable note digital transaction platform like eSign Genie which warrants UETA and federal ESIGN Act compliance.
How electronic signatures help healthcare providers to process paperwork more efficiently
Improve compliance – Signing medical documents electronically ensures they are completed in compliance with HIPAA privacy rule. Documents signed online are authenticated and have the highest level of privacy and security.
Digital transformation – Enable patients to sign medical records anytime, anywhere, and on any device. No patient likes sitting in a doctor’s office with a clipboard. It’s inefficient and time-consuming. Paper forms require being scanned or re-keyed; and many times, patients find themselves omitting important data. It is not possible to submit digital forms until they are 100% filled up, and data is captured and sent to end systems automatically, enabling end-to-end electronic medical records.
Increase efficiency – get medical documents signed on time so that healthcare-related pronouncements can be approved and implemented faster through HIPAA compliant electronic signature. This mostly improves the quality of care since patients’ medical history, medications, and allergies can be reviewed way before they walk in a physician’s office.
Easy maintenance of e-records – Archive medical documents electronically for easier and cost-effective retrieval and storage.
Facilitate reporting – With e-signatures, it is easier to prove what occurred during the medical documents review and signing process. This is usually important for compliance, internal reporting, and litigation purposes.
Reduce manual processing – Reduce the time your hospital staff spend chasing after signatures and rectifying medical documents where there are errors with HIPAA compliant electronic signature process.
What are some common HIPAA compliant electronic signature use cases?
Electronic signatures allow medical organizations and healthcare industries to add e signs to a wide variety of forms and documents, such as:
- Hospital forms
- New patients’ forms/Patient onboarding forms
- Billing forms
- Patient consent forms
- Health insurance claims processing forms
- Medical prescriptions
- Lab reports
- Care documents
- Provider agreements
- Drug prescriptions
HIPAA violation is expensive. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is mandated to see that the HIPAA privacy rule is observed. OCR enforces the HIPAA security rule in several ways including conducting investigations on complaints filed. Also conducting compliance reviews to establish if healthcare providers meet the full HIPAA requirements.
The consequences for HIPAA privacy law noncompliance are usually based on the extent of negligence and can vary from $100 to $50, 000 per record. Violation may also be subject to criminal charges.
How is eSign Genie compliant with HIPAA?
As stated by the HIPAA journal, there are various prerequisites and conditions for using electronic signatures under HIPAA rules. eSign Genie has met the following set of regulations as required by HIPPA:
eSign Genie complies with the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) and the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN). These are the fundamental laws that recognize electronic signatures as legal and enforceable.
Business Associate (BA) compliance
eSign Genie has taken the necessary steps outlined in the checklist of controls and safeguards to attain HIPAA compliance for its electronic signature solution.
According to HIPAA, the Covered Entities (CEs) should implement a system that can validate the identity of every transacting party to prevent disputes about whether the party that entered into a contract had the authority to do so. eSign Genie provides multiple authentication mechanisms to help CEs confirm the signer’s identity upon signing:
- Two-step verification
- Knowledge-based authentication (KBA)
- SMS text code
- Question and Answer
It is vital to prove the signer’s intent to execute a document in-case they refute it. eSign Genie ensures that you can establish the intention of the signer by offering legal evidence in the form of a comprehensive audit trail that records every action which he/she (signer) takes in e-signing and reviewing a document. This is by providing a time-stamped audit trail that indicates times, location, date, and the chain of custody. Usually, this also ensures that the agreements are legally enforceable, and the execution of the signature cannot later be challenged.
For a system to be HIPAA compliant, it must have anti-tampering controls that guarantee the integrity and legitimacy of Patient Health Information (PHI).
eSign Genie has the ability to tamper-seal your medical records and show evidence of tampering in case someone tries to modify the records in any way, making it unenforceable. To further secure medical records, eSign Genie also uses encryption and Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).
Ownership and control
The final requirement for electronic signatures used under HIPAA rules concerns copies of signed medical records stored on the servers of electronic signature solution providers. For a covered entity to guarantee the integrity of all public health information, all of the proof supporting the signature must be on the same document under the control and ownership of the covered entity. Every other copy – except those meant for the signatory – must be digitally destroyed.
eSign Genie takes advantage of global data center networks with top technology partners to host its solution in modern cloud systems and HIPAA-compliant data centers all over the globe. With the vast potential for external breaches to compromise health documents, such ownership and control measures are valuable for attaining HIPAA compliance while still encouraging mobility.
By embracing technological advancements such as HIPAA compliant electronic signature in their practices. Healthcare providers and institutions can have a head start on HIPAA and other federal healthcare-related regulations. Most notably, they can attain high levels of security and privacy which will not only guarantee current compliance but practically ensure acquiescence to future HIPAA requirements.
In taking the appropriate steps now, healthcare providers can potentially steer clear of the future headaches and compliance-related costs when standards are reorganized and strengthened. And, most significantly, by deploying the best data security technologies and implementing reliable practices especially in the protection of e-PHI (electronic Protected Health Information). Healthcare providers can guarantee the confidentiality and security of their patient’s sensitive health information and avoid costly data security breaches.
It’s not that difficult to implement some of these HIPAA rules; interestingly, all that is needed is to employ electronic signatures, when managing patients’ medical documents and forms. In a nutshell, independent HIPAA compliant electronic signature services such as eSign Genie can allow healthcare providers to reap the real benefits of compliance, mobility, efficiency, and cost-saving.