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How digital signatures are helping South African hospitals during the pandemic

How digital signatures are helping South African hospitals during the pandemic

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How digital signatures are helping South African hospitals during the pandemic

Digital signatures help stop the spread of infection during the global pandemic. Debbie Hayes, GlobalSign, explains how digital signatures are proving to be critical during this difficult period.

Six months into COVID-19 and the world is still very much in adjustment mode. It has been a difficult year, to say the least.

South Africa has been innovative in its approach to managing the crisis, widely using digital signatures to help both doctors and patients minimise contact where possible. For example:

  • At the point of hospital admission, patients can sign their declarations and forms using their own mobile devices regardless of whether they have a smartphone or even data. Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) enables messages to be sent to patients’ devices so that they never need to touch a pen, paper application form or come into contact with any member of staff.
  • Doctors can generate and sign prescriptions electronically, while remaining compliant with local legislation. This has enabled various telemedicine innovations, allowing consultations between patient and doctor to occur via video chat. The patient can then be issued an electronic prescription that will be accepted as legally binding by pharmacists to dispense their medicine.
  • Hospital administration and head office staff are also using digital signatures to keep their hospitals running, signing critical orders while sheltering in self-isolation. 

These very positive developments have been successfully implemented by South African-based Impression Signatures, an eSignature provider and Certified Regional Partner for Certificate Authority GlobalSign. Impression Signatures has been working with a number of large private hospital groups in South Africa to implement the solutions listed above, improving the safety of healthcare workers and enabling new technologies that will relieve the burden on the fragile healthcare system.

Why digital signatures?

Digital signatures provide authenticity and integrity to digital messages such as email, documents and code distributed via the Internet. They are critical to business since they enable organisations to securely exchange data and improve electronic workflows.

A digital signature acts as a form of ‘digital ID card’ and can verify the identity of a signer and also ensure a document’s contents haven’t been tampered with. This type of signature is commonly used on documents which are legally binding or which contain sensitive information, such as the healthcare scenario discussed in this article, but also especially in financial services, architecture and design/build, education, government and many other sectors. This Public Key Infrastructure (PKI)-based technology ensures that documents are encrypted – making sure the contents have not been altered in transit.

Prior to COVID, digital signatures were already in a heavy growth mode, but the worldwide pandemic has spurred it further. So, it is highly likely digital signatures will continue to be a tool that many organisations rely on for the long-term, especially in a world where signing documents by hand (‘wet signatures’) is fading fast. From this point forward, expect digital signatures to be the norm rather than the exception.

Technologies like digital signatures are proving to be critical during this difficult period. That they are assisting healthcare workers and patients is extremely rewarding.

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