Collecting and tracking payments can challenge any business, but medical practices face added and unique hurdles, says James Mullane, vice president of integrated payments at PNC Bank.
It starts with the nature of payments in the industry: They’re staggered between providers and patients over an unpredictable amount of time. But it does not end there. Technology integration challenges are in play between front-office and back-end payment systems, Mullane says. Both need to securely communicate with insurance provider systems and third parties, such as collection companies and credit card processors — while protecting the information privacy of users.
“It’s not like any other industry where you get service and you pay for the service right then and there,” Mullane points out. “There’s usually just a small component of the service paid for up front, and then the lion’s share of the service gets paid for on the back end by the third party (a public or private payer) and the insurance company — or by the patient themself for what’s not covered by their plan.”
And on the front end, you need to meet the mobile payment expectations of your patients — which is a good thing because it means recognizing funds sooner than traditional forms of payment. But it adds a new challenge for the business staff.
Luckily, there are a number of useful payment systems today that can help prioritize security of patient and financial data while improving the likelihood that practices will be paid what they are owed. Furthermore, these systems can track and manage information throughout the full payment process end to end, reducing payment time and improving visibility.
Mullane suggests you take the following actions when selecting a payment system or provider:
1. Educate yourself and your office staff. A wide variety of payment systems and entities help medical offices manage payments. Explore how the options fit with your unique needs before settling on a system.
2. Look at the big picture. Consider your existing office software when selecting a payment provider. “You may want a payments partner that’s already embedded in some of the office software you’re currently using,” Mullane suggests.
3. Consider the whole payment cycle. Patients may need to pay a copay in the office but make additional payments later. Can the system or provider easily account for flexible payment arrangements for the same invoice, or can it only handle one-time payments? How does it alleviate the burden of the office’s managerial staff? “Make sure that the payment processing can cover all of your needs, both front- and back-office,” Mullane says.
4. Include privacy protections. When selecting payment options, consider privacy concerns. “Your payment processor should be offering you multiple levels of protections,” Mullane says. The American Medical Association promotes that healthcare practices use standard automated clearinghouse (ACH) electronic funds transfer and that doctors educate their staffs on credit card processing best practices. “You should demand and expect data security from your payments processor,” he adds.
5. Look beyond credit cards. Payment technologies continue to evolve. What types of payments make sense today or might your office add in the future? “Have a payment processor that’s ready to handle today’s mobile payment apps, e-checks and ACH payments,” Mullane says. The more payment options you offer, the greater the convenience to your patients.
6. Offer customer support. Don’t forget that patients will probably require additional administrative support to use new processes. Whether you’re setting up a credit card system in your office or creating a way for patients to pay online, consider the types of customer support needs that may arise, the types of questions that staff may need to field and whether your system maker or third-party processor provides customer support tools.
7. Communicate with your patients. Have your front-office staff share details about your payment practices with new and established patients. That means discussing what the patients may end up owing, how their insurance payment processing will work and what your office’s payment practices entail, says Physicians Practice. Taking the time to ensure that patients understand the twists and turns of the payment process will help the practice and the patients in the long term and is likely to improve patient responsiveness.
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