Credit cards offer medical practices an advantage for collecting payments

August 1, 2012

If you're feeling sullen after meeting with your business office staff to mull over the challenges of collecting from patients, maybe it's time to explore opportunities to integrate credit card transactions into your collections process.

Key Points

High-performing practices know that there's more to successful time-of-service patient collections than just asking for money. These outstanding performers give their front office workers the tools, resources and training they need to make collections happen. A key tool for dermatology practices seeking to stay on top of the patient collections challenge is credit card processing.

Consider these ideas to use credit cards to boost collections – and reduce costs – in your practice.

Contract with a vendor that allows your practice to securely store credit card information on behalf of patients. The mechanics work like this: You want to collect a payment, but the patient doesn't have the funds or would like to make a partial payment and defer the remainder on a budget plan. Instead of asking the patient to promise to send you a check, hand the patient a written authorization form allowing you to store their credit card information and debit it in accordance with the payment terms upon which you both agree.

Your staff logs into the vendor's online customer portal (through the Internet, or perhaps via your practice management system if the service can be linked to the system). The credit card is swiped (or keyed), along with the patient's data and your payment terms. Each time the credit card is charged for a periodic payment, the vendor automatically sends the patient an email.

Look for a vendor that provides you with clear information about its policies for the security of stored credit data. Seek a vendor that shares data on average transaction times. Some practices report frustration with vendors whose systems time them out every few minutes (thus requiring staff to re-log in); a busy dermatology practice must consider the time it will take for staff to perform the transaction. Used effectively and efficiently, this credit card "swipe, hold and charge" protocol can reduce cost and time spent on statements, while improving cash flow.

Integrate a price estimator. Under increased financial pressure, many patients seek to be better informed about their financial responsibilities. Consider contracting with a vendor that specializes in point-of-service price estimations.

Sophisticated estimating software links your contract terms (for example, the amount that you agree to accept as the allowable for each service) with the patient's insurance information. For example, when you render a CPT-99213 to Betty A. Smith, who holds ABC Health Plan, the software accounts for the allowable upon which you have agreed with ABC Health Plan, as well as the Ms. Smith's coverage, benefits eligibility and financial responsibility in order to offer an estimation of what she owes. You then have the choice to collect the estimated financial responsibility at that time, or if the system allows you to store patients' credit card information, you can debit the patient's credit card when the payer adjudicates the claim. When the insurance company's remittance is received, the credit card is automatically debited for the remaining balance.

In this way, having the capacity to store credit card information not only reduces checkout time and all but erases the prospect of no payment, it also slashes your post-service billing costs. Because most price estimators can validate benefits, you can accurately collect on non-covered services as well.