There are many advantages to accepting multiple forms of patient payments for your independent medical practice or clinic’s medical billing office. Offering your patients easy options will improve your front desk processes, provide options for your patients, while keeping your business office running smooth.

Getting your staff the tools they need is the first step. This begins with putting best practice policies, procedures, equipment and training in place. Creating a culture where staff embrace patient responsibility will unsure that a consistent message is deployed at each phase of the visit.

Credit Card Processing Options

Some clinics still maintain a stand-alone credit card machine where the card is swiped and the payment amount, the patient account number and other information is entered on a handwritten log.

  • Pros: The card swipe eliminates a portion of the data entry and speeds up the interaction. The machine is connected to phone line and not dependent on your computer system, and lastly, it is very easy to learn and utilize.
  • Cons: Payments can only be made when and where a machine is available, which limits the number of staff capable of taking payments. You may run out of receipt paper and the machine is mechanical and can malfunction limiting your ability to take payments.  There is daily staff time invested in accessing/creating and scanning payment logs and a greater chance of error with hand written logs and receipts. The payments are not necessarily available immediately and longer turn-around time increases the chance of patient complaints from delays in posting. This may result in inaccurate account balances – which leads to patient complaints. There is a monthly cost for the service, maintenance, and because the machines hold customer data they create a security risk if stolen or not properly disposed of.

Virtual payment terminal

If you are processing less than 100 credit cards a month hand keying customer credit payments into a virtual terminal is a great option. Your staff can log into a secure portal on any computer with internet access, type in the necessary information, process the payment, and print the patient their receipt.

  • Pros: With a virtual terminal you have an immediate deposit and verification of available funds in your patient debit/credit account. Most portals will process ACH check payments, which helps avoid bad checks. Cash can also be entered into the system log, but of course you still need to deposit and reconcile. The virtual terminal will provide a detailed log of who took the payment, all of the necessary details, and even notes on how to apply the payment. Perhaps the best part, your billing company can automatically downloaded the log which creates faster turnaround of posting to patient accounts. This lessens the chance of patient complaints when you have the most up-to-date balance. You are not dependent on machine at each desk or office and can even run payments when on home visits if that is part of your business. You can also e-mail patients receipts with their permission.
  • Cons: The manual entry of the credit card account number and patient information takes a minute to enter. Also, credit card processing fees may be slightly higher when you don’t use the physical card to run the payment.

Perhaps the coolest feature of virtual terminals is the ability to setup and report on automated payment plans. Payment plans allow a large patient balance to be paid incrementally and without continued phone calls or reminders. They can be easily setup and the reporting functions will let you know when a scheduled payment was denied or never made. It is important to ensure that you have consistent payment policies in place so you don’t have a staff person inadvertently setup a $100 a month on $3,000 bill. Ensure that your staff have talking points to adequately communicate to the patient what they should expect to see on their monthly credit card bill to reduce the chance of complaints.

Using a virtual terminal with a credit card swipe bar or check scanning machine

If you have a busy medical office with lots of time demands on your staff having the right equipment to accompany your virtual terminal is crucial. You can purchase credit card swipers for a $100 or less to enter payment information.

  • Pros: All of the options of hand keying credit cards into the virtual terminal but you swipe the card to automatically enter in the credit card account number thus saving time. These swipers have a small desk footprint, are essentially “plug and play” and have no maintenance. Check scanners are a bit more expensive at around $300 but are worth it for offices processing over 100 checks a month.
  • Cons: Are there disadvantages to having a full service payment portal that generates and accurate and timely log? Hard to say. One option to look for is payment systems that are integrated with your practice management system that allow you to view patient balances, accept payments on the account, and apply into an escrow. Having this high end payment functionality reduces the opportunity for error reducing front desk staff time, creates efficiencies for your billing office, and keeps your patients happy and healthy.

Give us a call at Outsource Receivables Incorporated.  We can assess your independent medical practice or clinic’s medical billing and patient payment systems and efficiencies with a comprehensive analysis. Our process goes beyond virtual terminals and tools and digs deep into your processes. You may just find that you are missing out and even losing money in the process.

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