Guest Article: We should be implementing digital signatures even before jumping into EMRs

Home > Guest Article: We should be implementing digital signatures even before jumping into EMRs

Healthcare organizations should be embracing digital signatures but often think it’s much harder than it really is. Some organizations are resorting to timely, expensive and cumbersome paper-based processes because they think they need to move to full EMRs or EHRs in order to gain any of the benefits of digital signatures. Fortunately, advances in digital signature technology have made it possible for Healthcare organizations of any size to embrace digital signatures and gain a competitive advantage through eliminated paper handling costs and expedited processes. To discuss this topic I invited Ashley Miller, a digital signatures specialist at, to tell us about how we can benefit from this technology. Here’s what she said:

Despite the growing acceptance of digital signatures among Healthcare organizations, many are still left in the dark. Providers are so accustomed to using paper for signature approval processes that they don’t recognize the disadvantages of doing so. They’re often intuitively aware of significant benefits that can be obtained from turning paper-based approval processes into electronic but don’t realize that it’s not an “all or nothing” affair.

Today’s advancements in digital signature technology have made going electronic for approval processes fast and simple. Some digital signature solutions have been designed specifically for Healthcare organizations, so they adhere to industry regulations such as HIPAA, Joint Commission and others.

If you’re wondering what the actual use of digital signatures looks like in a Healthcare organization, here are some examples:

  • Patient consent forms require signatures from patients and, sometimes, also the physician. When completed in paper form, these consent forms must be printed, signed, and scanned, which is both cumbersome and time consuming. Digital signatures can be used in conjunction with tablet PCs and ePads to enable physicians and patients to sign electronically and on-the-spot, saving significant time and resources.

  • When a Healthcare professional performs a house call or remote site visit, their notes must be signed and added to the patient medical record.  With digital signatures, any professional carrying a laptop has the ability to prepare, sign and submit the information remotely, avoiding the possibility of information being lost and minimizing the time this process takes to complete.  Patient signatures can also be captured in the same method described above.

  • For managing health records, EMR (electronic medical record) applications are gaining wider acceptance and facilitating the transition from paper to electronic charts. However, while EMRs typically offer electronic signatures, these signatures are not verifiable by non-users of the system. With digital signature solutions, the information can be presented as a secure and compliant, signed PDF, that is sealed from any further changes (thus preventing data from being changed after signing). This enables simple, fast and efficient data sharing with authorized third parties and patients.

  • More uses of digital signatures in Healthcare include drug prescriptions, lab reports, doctor’s orders, clinical evaluations, and clinical orders.

The benefits that Healthcare organizations have obtained from digital signatures include all of the above and more, not to mention cost savings. The South Carolina Department of Mental Health, for example, saved over $4 million dollars in the first year of implementing digital signatures, solely from eliminating the need to print and route thousands of documents daily across their ten locations.

And, you can do all this without jumping into full-fledged EMRs or EHRs.


Shahid N. Shah

Shahid Shah is an internationally recognized enterprise software guru that specializes in digital health with an emphasis on e-health, EHR/EMR, big data, iOT, data interoperability, med device connectivity, and bioinformatics.