Preparations for HIPAA Implementation Prompt Electronic Signature Debate
The New York Times yesterday looked at the debate over electronic signatures, documentation that can add an "authentication code" to electronic medical documents. Although 1996's Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requires providers and insurers to conduct administrative transactions electronically by October, 2002, it does not require electronic signatures on those documents. Such an omission poses a "threat" of fraud or legal liabilities "in the event of an error," Peter Waegemann, chair of the health information board of the American National Standards Institute and CEO of the Medical Records Institute, said. Waegemann is "pressing" for the use of electronic signatures. "The issue before us is whether a trillion-dollar industry can afford to send invoices without signatures and whether it is appropriate to implement the HIPAA legislation without signatures," he said.
Waegemann's position "seems to be a minority viewpoint," the Times reports. HHS officials say it is "premature" to "anoint any particular electronic signature or format" as an industry standard. They add that the electronic data interchange system of transferring files, which has long been used in the health industry, "allows relatively secure transmission of data without use of electronic signatures." Additionally, Wesley Rischel, research director for the Gartner Group, a technology consulting firm, and chair of Health Level-Seven, a health care standards organization, said that no electronic signature model has been "sufficiently tested and proved." He added, however, that he thinks "outstanding issues can be worked out," perhaps in one year (Zuckerman, New York Times, 5/15).