How Can Healthcare Companies Use Electronic Signatures?
By Leor Melamedov
Healthcare companies have long relied on wet signatures for interactions requiring approval. Recently, PDFs with signature lines have risen to prominence. But interactions remain slow, with excessive back-and-forth between providers and patients. This is unacceptable as in today’s fast-paced consumer world, eSignatures for healthcare companies are required to be instant and seamless to complete. Here, we’ll discuss what makes the next generation of eSignatures such a crucial part of any digital transformation initiative. We will also show how they are just one piece of a wider automated workflow.
Why Wet Signatures are a Problem for Healthcare
The healthcare industry is bound by complex compliance requirements and an intricate network of players (e.g., doctors, nurses, patients, insurance companies). It’s all too easy to fall back on physical paperwork and wet signatures to ensure HIPAA compliance and avoid liabilities.
But healthcare workers and the patients they serve are drowning in paperwork. Paperwork steals the precious time of people who need to be focused on saving and improving lives. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), 60% of its members said that “administrative simplification” should be the organization’s priority. Paperwork similarly burdens patients, who are forced to deal with bureaucracy while juggling the physical and emotional demands of their treatment.
Imagine a cancer patient who shows up at a clinic to receive chemotherapy. They are handed a clipboard and made to fill out forms where they likely are asked to repeat information they provided before. Then they need to sign a consent form. This just adds to the burden of an already challenging time.
There are other situations when paperwork and wet signatures aren’t just burdensome, but impossible. Telehealth has revolutionized the standards of patient care, allowing patients to access medical evaluations and guidance without coming to a physical location. But it also makes traditional paperwork requirements impossible.
Whether a process takes place within a clinic or hospital setting, or a virtual setting, one thing is for sure: traditional paperwork and wet signatures prolong time to completing a healthcare task. But why? From working with a variety of healthcare providers, we have seen the following issues with traditional wet signatures.
1. They Contribute to Silos
Many healthcare providers have started to digitize aspects of their patient experience. The problem is that these technologies aren’t synced together, or fail to communicate with the backend operations.
For example, health insurance companies can allow hospitals to access patient information easily, but hospitals often fail to appropriately save this information for future use. This results in hospitals having to chase patients for information and consent that they may have already provided, prolonging time to completion.
Or take the example of a patient who has been treated in a clinic before, and is asked to fill out forms and sign documents that he has already provided in the past. The patient experience and operational efficiency have been tarnished even before treatment starts.
2. They’re Costly
An analysis conducted by Harvard Medical School, the City University of New York at Hunter College, and the University of Ottawa found that 34% of all U.S. medical costs, including doctor visits and health insurance, comes from paperwork. An average hospital maintains 45 million individual paper forms and documents that must all be stored in a highly secure yet searchable way, which is not cheap.
Compared to their counterparts north of the border, Americans are overloaded with administrative costs when it comes to healthcare. Health administration costs four times more per capita in the U.S ($2,479 per person) than in Canada ($551 per person). Meanwhile, Americans paid $844 per person on insurance overhead, compared to $146 for Canadians.
While some of this can be chalked up to the particular complexity of the U.S. healthcare system, this is all the more reason why the U.S. needs to leave behind outdated paperwork processes and streamline its administrative management.
3. They’re Less Compliant
While most healthcare professionals are highly aware of compliance regulations, paperwork processes jeopardize their efforts. Paper forms, documents, and signatures are far easier to alter, forge, or lose, which is a liability when it comes to HIPAA compliance. All it takes is one document falling in the wrong hands, or lying out in the open on a desk, or lost in a sea of paperwork, to put patient privacy at risk.
HIPAA requires that healthcare professionals follow very strict protocols that govern administrative management, physical security, and technical security. But when healthcare professionals are overloaded with mountains of messy paperwork, and are overwhelmed with communicating with patients with outdated frontend systems, stringent compliance to all of HIPAA’s many requirements may fall by the wayside.
4. They’re Not Patient-Centric
Patients, by definition, are grappling with a health issue –– however big or small. When they arrive at a clinic or hospital and have to fill out and sign tons of forms, it adds an additional headache that they don’t need. Going to a new doctor in particular often means repeating information that should already be visible in the system, but isn’t due to messy and siloed processes.
Even worse, paper-based medical records are prone to getting misplaced, which in some cases could mean patients must redo tests. Even basic paperwork such as prescriptions can be a significant burden on patients: their doctors must print and physically sign these prescriptions, and they have to go and pick them up. For busy and in some cases unwell patients, that is too much to ask for.
The Benefits of Mobile-First eSignatures
Mobile-first eSignature solutions combat the completion problems associated with siloed systems and legacy channels. When eSignatures and eForms are designed to be completed from the comfort of patients’ smartphones, two good things happen: First, the signature is instantly routed to the healthcare provider’s system, allowing it to be automatically stored in the patient’s electronic file. And second, patients are more eager to provide the signature because they can do so from any location: they don’t have to wait until they are in front of their computer inbox (or worse, fill out one of those forms attached to a clipboard in the waiting room).
The ROI of switching to an eSignature solution is extremely high, and many of the benefits can be seen and felt almost instantaneously.
1. Simple Migration
Healthcare decision makers often postpone digitizing because they dread the migration process, and fear that old paperwork will get lost along the way, or won’t be easily updated. However, the latest eSignature platforms enable existing paper forms and documents to be converted into signable digital forms that can be archived digitally.
2. Improved Patient Experience
Patients can arrive at a doctor’s appointment, MRI, or hospital with their forms and documents already filled out and signed via an intuitive mobile environment. Once they arrive at the location, they can skip filling out forms in the waiting room and jump right to the treatment they need. Even billing can and should be done via a digital, mobile interface to save patients valuable time.
3. Greater Efficiency
Valuable staff time is conserved with an eSignature solution, as EHR documents no longer need to be scanned. Healthcare forms and documents can be created instantly, and prefilled with patient information. Staff can also be confident that they always have the most up-to-date version of a given document or form, since a digital system is easier to maintain and update.
4. Seamless Compliance
The best eSignature solutions are based on HIPAA compliant text messaging and come with a time-stamped, tamper-proof paper trail, protecting the integrity of sensitive patient data and eliminating risk. Documents processed via digital solutions are stored safely and securely, and are readily accessible –– to the authorized eyes only.
Use Cases for eSignatures in Healthcare Companies
eSignatures have many applications within healthcare companies. Here are some of them:
Approve timesheets, prescriptions, and patient discharges
Send signed prescriptions to remote patients in a telehealth setting
Conduct a fully digital staff onboarding process, from the offer letter to training documents
Facilitate the signing of all FDA-regulated clinical trial forms
Expedite patient (HIPAA) consent forms
Enable billing for Medicare
A wide range of departments in the healthcare company can make use of eSignatures, including finance, legal, and service teams,
How eSignatures Exist in an Automated Workflow
Healthcare providers get the most value from eSignatures in healthcare settings when they are used as part of a fully automated digital workflow. When patients aren’t actively receiving treatment, they should be able to complete all the logistical aspects of their patient experience in a fast, streamlined, and mobile way. Faster time to completion means a better patient experience, more satisfied healthcare workers, and lower overhead costs — all without compromising on stringent compliance standards.
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