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 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. Observance of HIPAA rules is critically significant for health care providers, and 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 which 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 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 in regards to e signatures?
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 photograph or password of some kind). This is to avoid spats about whether the patient who entered into contract really had the right to do so.
Thirdly, message integrity must be observed. Electronically signed medical documents are also required to be secured properly to prevent unauthorized access. Apparently, the signature ought to be encrypted and alter-proof, or at least tamper-evident, in order 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 notedigital 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. This mostly improves 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 medical documents review and signing process. This is usually important for compliance, internal reporting, and for litigation purposes.
Reduce manual processing – Reduce the time your hospital staff spend chasing after signatures and rectifying medical documents where there are errors.
What are some common HIPAA 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 on-boarding 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 HIPAA privacy rule is observed. OCR enforces the HIPAA security rule in several ways including conducting investigations on complaints filed and 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.
By embracing technological advancements such as electronic signature solutions 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 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 e-signatures such as eSign Genie can allow healthcare providers to reap the real benefits of compliance, mobility, efficiency, and cost-saving.