Signatures for your customers, clients, and other external signers

By Larry Kluger posted 03-27-2014 08:23


At the AIIM webinar about SharePoint and digital signatures last week (you can watch the webinar on demand here), I briefly discussed how a hospital customer is enabling hospital staff and patients to sign paperwork online.

A webinar participant wondered how this works since you wouldn’t add your patients, customers or other “external signers” to your in-house system.

External Signers

We refer to the general category of signers who don’t directly work for your organization as “External Signers.” Different external signer scenarios can be grouped into categories.

Today I’ll discuss the “On-premises infrequent external signer” such as a customer, a client or a patient in a hospital. This signer will sign your paperwork infrequently and will do so in the presence of a staff member.


Understanding how you will authenticate the external signer is always important. (How do you know that they are who they say they are?) When the signer is in-person, it is easy for your staff member to do the authentication by asking for ID. “May I see your ID?” is a common request, whether you’re checking in for a flight, hotel or hospital.

Signing Ceremony

The external signer has been authenticated. Next, the signing ceremony. It will actually be a double ceremony:

First the external signer will sign. Either a digital certificate can be created for the external signer for a brief time, or in the US, the external signer’s graphical signature can be captured via a tablet or signing pad. In the US, a simple graphical signature may be good enough for your purposes if it is then “attested to” by your staff member’s digital signature.

Next, the staff member will digitally sign the document. The staff member’s signature certifies that the external signer’s ID was checked and that it really was the external signer who signed via the graphical signature.

In essence, your staff member is acting as a witness to the external signer’s signature.

As signatures go, the external signer’s graphic signature, by itself, is pretty weak beer. But when strengthened by the digitally signed assurance from your staff member, the validity of the external signer’s signature becomes much higher.

Your staff member’s digital signature “seals” the document. Once signed, any change to the document would be detected: the digital signature would no longer validate.

As I noted above, the external signer can also sign with a digital certificate. But this technique usually involves a couple more steps. The additional steps are not onerous, and I’ll discuss them in my next post when I cover external signers who are remote.

Bottom Line

Yes, your external customers can easily sign your paperwork online using digital signature technology. The result is a self-contained signed document that can be trusted, validated, and is legally binding.

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