With the large-scale overhaul of most practices moving towards Electronic Health Records, it would make sense that fully electronic payments for medical services rendered would become the default payment structure across the U.S. However, figures suggest that approximately 6 percent of practices nationwide submit physical healthcare claims using slow, cumbersome paper forms. Also, that 6 percent has remained fairly steady.
The reasons for not switching to a fully paperless system are actually substantial, and explain why some practices might be resistant to change. For instance, small practices, atypical practices, or super-specialized practices often have highly specific billing protocols they feel can’t be captured by an out-of-the-box EHR billing adjunct. Similarly, they might feel that switching to electronic billing or electronic claim submissions would compel them to buy into a burdensome EHR solution that doesn’t fit their practice. There might be certain procedures or services rendered that can only be submitted manually.
The reality nowadays is that most of the reasons to continue submitting paper claims is shrinking, and the reasons above are becoming less and less relevant. Most advanced billing software solutions or outsourced medical billing services can be specifically tailored or coded for any billing or claim filing need. Billing software can be purchased independent of whatever EHR is being employed.
Furthermore, the financial benefits of electronic payments and claims heavily outweigh any perceived risks. Studies have shown that medical offices can conservatively save 75% of the cost to process a claim electronically than by using paper, and save 50% operating costs from their billing department overall.
We will delve into some of the many reasons why providers should accept and use electronic payment systems.
Give Payers What They Want
While almost all payers have the ability, many medical practices are not set up for EFTs and ERAs. EFTs, or Electronic Funds Transfers, are basically the same system used for direct paycheck deposits; they are a safe and cost-effective alternative to paper check payments. Aside from allowing more quickly processed payments, it reduces paper waste, prevents checks being lost in the mail, prevents user and processing error, and allows easier electronic reconciliation with a very simple sign-up process.
Medicare has the ability to send payments directly to a provider’s financial institution whether claims are filed manually or electronically. Similarly, ERAs, or Electronic Remittance Advice, are electronically generated claims payment explanations that have all the information of a paper report, but in a convenient HIPAA-compliant electronic format. Providers are still getting the bulk of their payments in check form even though EFTs and ERAs have so many advantages. Practices would improve the financial success of their office by adopting these technologies.
Electronic Payment Processing is Worth the Price
Some offices may have stuck with or even reverted back to paper payments after the financial recession of 2008, and the public’s general wariness with trusting big banks and credit cards. It is true that paying in cash is always cheaper than credit cards because the business always absorbs the cost of electronic processing upfront. Regardless, we can’t look at it from a per-transaction basis. As we mentioned above, the physical cost of processing paper checks probably costs more than any electronic credit card fees a business has to pay. With the same trade-off in mind, most customers in general are willing to pay a slightly higher fee for the convenience of being able to make a payment electronically.
World of Electronic Payment Options
If you’re worried about being stuck with only one type of electronic payment option, you’re in luck. You have a plethora of choices.
Merchant Accounts: These are the type of old school accounts you set up with a large banking or lending institution. They set you up with an account into which you can be paid, but you will be charged up to 5% on transactions. The advantage to this system is you usually are afforded the robust insurances of a bank, and it is ideal for high volume transaction businesses.
Computer-Attached Credit Card Swipe Machines: These are physical credit card turnstiles that can be attached to desktop computers. The machines usually come loaded with software to enable easy processing of payments that can be finished on your computer by your front office staff.
Smartphone-Attached Credit Card Dongles: Utilizing a smart-port into which a dongle can be attached along with a downloadable app, smartphones can be used as credit card processing machines themselves. In terms of hardware to buy, this is the easiest option, but the disadvantage is that credit card phone dongles tend to be finicky when processing a high volume of transactions. Often times, the smartphone route can be more difficult to troubleshoot than a computer-attached swipe machine.
Online-Only Payments: Another option is to integrate a payment portal on your website. This option is usually simple enough so that anyone who has set up your office’s website can easily attach this common functionality. Regardless, it’s a rather painless job for a web developer. Paypal remains a massively popular option for online payments. Venmo is increasing in popularity as well. If you go this route, make sure your website allows for these options.
Mobile Payments: This is the newest of all the listed options. Essentially, using a combination of wireless and near-field communication technology, customers with mobile payment-enabled on their phone can use their smartphones as credit cards by tapping their phone physically close to a Mobile Payment register, which completes the transaction automatically. This option can prove to be a very convenient option for customers, but the office will need to invest in a Mobile Pay Station and be handy with navigating all the different mobile payment options out there as well. Some examples of this option are Google Wallet and Apple Pay.
Whatever option you choose for electronic payments, opening your office to one of these options will almost certainly open your practice to more business and more patients. Whether your billing is done in-house or by an outsourced professional medical billing team, electronic payments and processing make every step of payment processing easier, faster, and more cost effective for you!