Electronic signatures and e-prescriptions

A working definition of an electronic signature is that it is the electronic equivalent of a written signature. Electronic signatures can come in many forms:

  1. typewritten
  2. scanned in signature format
  3. an electronic representation of a hand written signature
  4. a unique sequence of characters
  5. a digital representation of characteristics e.g. fingerprint, retina
  6. a signature created by cryptographic means
  7. a ‘virtual’ e- signature whereby logging onto the system, using a password, the user is defining who they are, their role and access level.

The legal status of electronic signatures

The Electronic Signatures Directive 1999/93/EC. Article. 5.2 of the Directive provides for a harmonised and appropriate legal framework for the use of electronic signatures by ensuring the recognition of all electronic signatures as evidence. This covers the full range of electronic signatures – no matter what their form or technology basis – from simple to advanced electronic signatures.

Article 5.2 is implemented into UK law through Section 7 of the Electronic Communications Act 2000. This legislation covers signatures used in all situations.

Other linked legislation

Prescription Only Medicines (Human Use) Order 1997

The Prescription Only Medicines (Human Use) Order 1997, Article 15 was amended in the Prescription Only Medicines (Human Use) (Electronic Communications) Order 2001 to permit prescriptions to be transmitted electronically and using ‘advanced electronic signatures’ as the signed prescription.

In practice

E-prescriptions have been in widespread use by private online clinics and in the NHS for at least 5 years. There have been some millions of these prescriptions issued in the private sector. The prescriptions of Index Medical Ltd meet all current regulatory requirements. Fast Doctor prescriptions are printable. The GPhC/PSNI inspects retail pharmacies where extensive use is made of e-prescriptions, without concerns having been raised.

Dr Tony Steele
Medical Director, Index Medical Ltd, March 2015