We are all living in an electronic world and it is becoming a common practice of many hospitals, medical providers and other creditors to ask patients and customers to sign agreements electronically instead of signing on paper.
That’s all well and good. Electronic signatures are not the issue. But problems can arise if you don’t offer the signer a copy of the document.
It is a basic rule of contract law that a valid contract requires a “meeting of the minds.” This can only happen when both parties understand and agree to the terms of the contract (btw, admission agreements and financial agreements are both types of contracts).
Of course, a patient or customer may choose not to read the document before signing it, but that, in of itself, will not relieve them of their obligations under the contract. However, if you want to be able to enforce the agreement, you must be able to offer proof that the patient was offered a copy of the entire document or at least afforded the opportunity to review it (such as having a laminated copy on the desk). Please note: It is not enough to say that the document could have been made available had they asked.
The problem of not offering a copy of the document could be compounded by referring to some provisions of the agreement while leaving out others. Unfortunately, this is becoming a fairly common practice. I actually know people who’ve gone to doctors and hospitals that when asked to sign a ‘consent to treat’ agreement were told to just sign a blank screen that was giving them, the medical provider, consent to treat and bill insurance. No mention is made of other important terms, such as describing the patient’s financial responsibilities, payments terms, etc. Down the road, the patient could claim they thought those were the only provisions they were signing off on so they didn’t read the document (if it was available).
If you want to use e-signatures for agreements here are our recommendations:
- Always have full copy of document available for inspection by patient or customer.
- Inform patient or customer that the document is available without being asked for it.
- Invite the patient or customer to read the document and ask questions about any terms he/she finds unclear.
- When asked or when stating the purpose of the document, do not attempt to summarize by mentioning only a couple of the terms.
- When the document relates to hospital or medical services and the patient seems reluctant to sign or wishes to delete certain parts, do not state or imply that services will be withheld if not signed, unless that is your actual policy. When applied to consumer transactions, “take it or leave it” contracts for necessary goods and services, such as medical, are highly disfavored in law as “contracts of adhesion”.
- Document the above circumstances of each electronic signing as a regularly kept business record. This can be done either as a short narrative or a check-off form that is signed by the person acting on behalf of the creditor, such as an admission’s clerk.
There’s no guarantee that following the above recommendations will prevent a challenge to the enforceability of electronically signed agreements, but they will make it much more likely that such agreements will be upheld if challenged.
A. Alliance Collection Agency, Inc. is a full service, licensed accounts receivable management and debt collection agency providing highly effective, customized one on one management and recovery solutions for our business partners. Founded in northern Illinois in 2005, we have been proudly improving the bottom-line on behalf of our business partners in and around Chicagoland for over 13 years.