Electronic Signatures and Patient Records

In all industries, technology is constantly changing the way in which businesses operate. In particular, with the advancement of computers and e-mail, most correspondence are transmitted through the internet and often paper documents have been replaced with their electronic form. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the area of healthcare services. Home healthcare companies must learn to adapt the way they operate in order to keep pace with the information age.

Under Medicare Transmittals, physician certification and recertification of services are required to be signed. Although home healthcare agencies are not required to have original signatures on file, the regulations require that the home healthcare agency must be able to obtain the original signature if necessary. Medicare rules also allow agencies to use electronic signatures. An electronic signature is any authentication that includes signatures, written initials, or a computer secure entry by unique identifier of the author who reviewed and approved the entry.

When using electronic signatures, home health agencies must provided safe guards to prevent unauthorized access to their records and/or use of the electronic signatures. The United States Department of Health and Human Services has also considered the issue of electronic signatures and have determined that such signatures can satisfy HIPAA privacy rules contract requirements. Neither the U.S. Department of Health nor the Office of Civil Rights requires the use of a specific technology. They merely require that there be proper authentication procedures in place to ensure that the signatures protect the patient information.

Any home healthcare agency using an electronic signature should be sure that all users agree to abide by certain authentication procedures. In addition, agencies should also adopt a policy and procedures designed to meet the minimum requirements under HIPAA. Home healthcare agencies must be prepared to adapt their procedures to comply with the information age, including electronic signatures.