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How to correctly use patient credit cards to pay medical bills

Storing credit card data on file is a great way for providers to streamline their revenue cycles and collect more of each patient's financial responsibility. However, there are right ways and wrong ways to go about this, many of them related to privacy practices and financial industry standards. Here are some good golden rules for credit card storage and processing.


Do provide multiple introduction points for your new financial collection policy

Ensure your patients learn about your new credit card on file collection policy well before the actual enforcement date: the front desk, reminder calls, handouts, signage, statement stuffers/reminders, etc. It may take three to seven reminders for patients to remember this practice change so take advantage of all opportunities to educate and engage.

Do retain documentation and signatures

Keep all billing and financial paperwork on file and organized. The rationale is that a well-documented trail provides support for the practice’s defense in the event of legal action. Some practices are using secure, password protected electronic systems to make this easier to do, but either way, these documents have to be backed up and archived. Check for state-specific requirements for retention time.

Do maximum security is a priority

Avoid retaining papers containing credit card information or scans of credit cards. You must follow very specific rules to protect information stored in this manner. This method can also lead to unauthorized exposure and access, enabling fraud, breaches, and a crisis management situation that will leave a black stain. Invest in a third party credit card processing partner, specializing in payment gateways and the latest financial security protocols.

Do train, train and then retrain

Even the best practices lose substance when staff lacks understanding, is apathetic or the policy is not enforced - 100%. Training will uphold success with your critical cash flow processes and the same message will be broadcast to your patient pool.

Do communicate with patients

Collaborating with rather than working against patients will facilitate good communication and outcomes. With a focused and dedicated outstanding balance follow-up plan, some, if not all, negative situations can be avoided. In your policy, include how and when the credit card will be charged, what will happen if the card is declined, a dollar cap on how much is authorized per transaction without a prior notification before the card is charged, and email for receipts.


Do not share private information

The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, requires providers and other businesses to have in place secure disposal of consumer information. It also limits the use and sharing of medical information in a financial system to reduce the risk of identity theft. Honor patient requests for record alterations to stay on the right side of the law.

Do not retain full credit card information anywhere that is not protected

This goes back to the practice of keeping sensitive financial information under lock and key. Portable ledger books and other kinds of print materials can be easily lifted from an office, and this can result in a devastating situation for your practice.

Do not leave computer screens unprotected and unattended

Front and back line staff might think they have a handle on security, but if the office is open, someone could be watching your computers, consciously or unconsciously. Computers need to be password-protected and revert to a blank screen after a few seconds of no activity. It is also best practice for individuals to log off when they are away from their work station. This will minimize the opportunity for anyone to quickly gain access and steal information.

Do not let someone else do it

Set the example and be involved in establishing good and fair policies for revenue collection in addition to protocols that will protect a patient's financial data.

Do not allow things to take care of themselves

Many medical offices have a tendency to ‘let well enough alone.’ However, in these kinds of cases, that can lead to serious liability. Any kind of delay can leave you vulnerable to lawsuits and other negative consequences. Make credit card security and patient privacy a non-negotiable priority in your office.

Jumping cartoon

You may continue to see your patient balances creep higher and higher if you choose to keep your policies and processes static. Change can be challenging, however, the pay off for you will be a quicker recovery turnaround and for your patients, added convenience in automatically keeping their account current.

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Sue (Sunni) PattersonPresident/CEO

Sue (Sunni) Patterson started in the healthcare industry as a senior medical claims processor with a major insurance payer. Sunni is President of RMK Holdings Inc., a healthcare revenue cycle management services firm. Key specialization areas in...

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