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Medical field may adopt mobile payments

Jun 25, 2013 Dave King

In many ways, the medical industry is one of the most innovative fields around. Throughout history, healthcare providers have needed to quickly evolve their methods of care to incorporate new scientific knowledge and improve patients' outcomes. In recent years, this adaptability has largely extended to the adoption of IT solutions such as electronic health records and telemedicine. But as hospitals adjust their management techniques to better serve the people who need them, it is crucial that they don't forget one important area: payments.

Today's consumers expect more from a variety of service providers than they ever have before. As more merchants adopt innovative solutions, the public will expect to see more convenient and high-tech options cropping up wherever they go. Just as they want to be able to purchase their daily coffee with their smartphones or tablets, so too do they desire to view and pay medical bills with the same ease. By linking their credit, debit or ACH cards to a mobile transaction app, patients can take the headaches out of keeping up with their healthcare expenses.

Keeping options open
Tomer Shoval, co-founder and CEO of medical bill tracking service Simplee, wrote in an article for VentureBeat that mobile payments are likely to be a good fit for healthcare organizations. Shoval explained that one reason for this is that these transactions exist in two types: Point-of-sale and bill pay. Most patients engage in both types of behaviors, taking care of co-pays at the front desk and sometimes waiting to be billed for a procedure or visit at a later date. Shoval noted that hospitals could potentially leverage mobile solutions to create shorter billing cycles and increase their revenues, even reducing costs related to debt collection. The more intuitive it is for patients to address their bills, the more likely they will stay on top of their payments.

Shoval cited a 2012 Billing Household Survey which found that 76 percent of consumers who are already using their smartphones to pay monthly bills would be interested in also paying off medical debts through these devices. The CEO emphasized that part of the reason for this is purely convenience-based: No one wants a kitchen table covered in bills or to need to figure out how much to pay by hand. With more heavily automated processes, the chance of mistakes is reduced, and this benefits all parties. Healthcare organizations will be more likely to be paid in a timely manner while their patients won't have to worry about forgotten bills having a negative impact on their consumer credit reports.

Enabling patients greater freedom in terms of how they make transactions is becoming a necessity in all industries. Mashable reported that according to a survey by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project and Elon University's Imagining the Internet Center, 65 percent of respondents felt that most people will be relying primarily on smart devices to make purchases by 2020. However, 33 percent said that they still do not trust near field communications, which the report attributed largely to privacy-related fears.

For the medical industry, handling mobile payments well could play to their advantage. Shoval pointed out in his VentureBeat article that this sector is highly-regulated, and while this red tape could slow down the adoption of emerging payments solutions, it could actually boost usage rates in the end. Because clinics will need to develop tools that are compliant with strict HIPAA regulations as well as those governing the payments industry, it's possible these new medical billing tools will be secure enough to put wary consumers at ease.