Electronic Signatures Can Reduce Costs, Speed Care Delivery

The following is a guest article by Stephan Herron, President and CEO of Scriptel Corporation.

Our modern Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems’ origins can be traced back to the 1960s. Fifty-five years ago, slightly over 100 clinical information and/or storage systems existed.

I’m sure that, at the time, one of the purported advantages of an electronic record was less reliance on paper documents, because who doesn’t want to reduce the amount of paper around the office? Copying, scanning, collating and filing paper records is time-consuming and prone to error through misfiling documents.

Compare the hospital or medical office of 1965 to 2020, and what’s different? Despite the technological advances over the intervening years, paper remains commonplace, everywhere from the intake forms at the registration desk, to privacy and consent forms in patient rooms, to medical histories stored in large filing systems.

The necessary changes in the healthcare workplace that COVID-19 has brought should serve as the impetus to dramatically reduce the amount of paper required to provide care. Employing electronic signing that can flow to the patient record is good for the environment, good for your practice, and good for your patients.

Outdated paper processes

Driving costs out of the care delivery process should be a priority. Hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, imaging centers, and medical practices are struggling to recover from closing or drastically reducing service during the worst of the pandemic.

A physician struggling to find the proper consent forms before a patient undergoes a procedure is one example of the inefficiency of paper in a modern office. (Unofficial surveys show that up to 25% of physicians are unsure whether a consent is on file at the time of treatment).

This problem often can be traced to paper processes, because paper is contagious. Physical documents may have been signed at registration but haven’t yet made it to the record repository. The registration clerk has to present the form to the patient, collect the signature, make a copy or scan it, then attach the paper or scan to the correct record. The clerk has many other competing duties, such as answering the phone, greeting patients, scanning/copying other documents and fielding questions, so it may time a while for the consent to show up.

The physician can either wait, which delays subsequent procedures and costs the hospital money, or proceed and hope for the best. Compliance audits do include checks on consents, so hoping for the best could cost the provider more in the long run.

When electronic signing is used in conjunction with an EHR, the signature can flow to the patient record without delay. By the time the patient is ready for treatment, the physician can easily check and determine whether the proper consent has been given.

Implications for COVID-19 and beyond

Electronic signing also makes sense in care delivery during the new normal that COVID-19 has wrought. Paper forms are seen as a potential source of spread, and the close quarters required for a staff member to hand papers to a patient, then wait for a signature, should no longer be standard operating procedure. Signing forms electronically can allow the patient to give information and consent without the need for physical proximity. The signing device can be sanitized between uses to help ensure safety. Many hospitals and health systems have set up temporary care facilities or COVID-19 testing sites that should include electronic signing to reduce paper handling and lower the risk of disease transmission.

Consumers are well-accustomed to electronic signing when paying for purchases with a credit card or signing for a delivered package. E-signatures combine operational efficiency with convenience for patients and security that will withstand a compliance audit while reducing the paperwork burden.

Stephan Herron is Chief Executive Officer and President of Scriptel Corporation, a leading developer of eSignature and signature capture technology. He can be reached at sherron@scriptel.com.