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The Benefits of Electronic Payments (especially during a pandemic)

The Benefits of Electronic Payments (especially during a pandemic)

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the healthcare industry virtually overnight. New challenges occurred including the cancellation of elective surgeries, furloughing of healthcare workers, and the shift to telehealth. Healthcare providers quickly adapted to an unprecedented landscape, while preparing for an uncertain future. 

In many cases, the healthcare systems and practices have managed to remain competitive and adopted new and emerging technologies that allow them to respond to the evolving needs of their patients. However, the pandemic has left its mark on the healthcare industry, and it will take some time for things to return to normal. Remaining profitable during these uncertain times requires a shift in business practices and a willingness to remain nimble as circumstances continue to change. 

A Shift in Business Practices

Contactless interaction is now the norm for healthcare. While some contactless delivery modes were in use or being introduced before the pandemic, trends that may have taken years to become fully integrated into the industry have now been catapulted into mainstream use. 

All industries in the world are searching for ways to reduce interaction. Healthcare providers have had to quickly put measures in place to ensure the safety of staff and patients. Not only does this require major shifts in care delivery such as remote staffing and the use of telehealth when appropriate, but in many cases, it also means streamlining and simplifying standard operating procedures. This will help minimize contact and account for personnel shortages or a shift to remote work. 

At the start of the pandemic, many employees were furloughed or terminated, especially non-caregiving employees. Many healthcare practices are still operating with reduced staff. COVID also increases the likelihood of employees taking sick leave or needing to work from home if they have been exposed to the virus, or need to care for family members who are ill. 

Although stay-at-home orders have been lifted or eased in many states, COVID rates continue to climb, with tens of thousands of new cases reported daily nationwide.

With health experts stating a COVID-19 vaccine is not expected to be widely available before mid-2021, all businesses should anticipate reduced interaction and contactless trends to continue for the foreseeable future. 

Reducing Exposure through Electronic Payments

Like many legacy processes in healthcare, paper checks, Explanation of Payments (EOPs/ERAs) and lockboxes are ripe for digital transformation. Receiving checks in the mail and taking them to the bank involves multiple touchpoints that can increase the risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

Not only do a surprising number of people come into contact with the mail, a daily trip to the bank unnecessarily puts you and your staff at risk of coming into contact with a COVID-19 carrier. Recent challenges with the postal system have resulted in mail delivery delays of days or even weeks. Once checks are received, they can take 7-10 days to clear the bank. Paper checks are also susceptible to fraud or loss and can incur NSF fees of up to $75 each.

Adopting electronic payments not only reduces contact with the mail and eliminates the need to go to the bank, but also eliminates time-consuming manual processes. Administrative personnel in a doctor’s office spend nearly 50 hours a week on billing work[AW1]  (2019 CAQH Index). Time saved on tasks such as printing and mailing invoices, opening mail, and entering payments can allow employees to be more productive and re-focus their efforts on higher-value tasks. 

On average, medical workers can save eight minutes per transaction with electronic payments, according to the 2019 Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare (CAQH) Index. Eligibility and benefits transactions require only an average of two minutes when conducted electronically, compared to ten minutes when performed manually.

Billing and other administrative work also present continued opportunities for staff to work remotely. For employees who do not interact with patients, allowing them to work from home is still one of the best ways to reduce interpersonal interactions in your practice. By automating payments, you allow your staff to focus on exceptions, which are typically easier to manage remotely.

Automated solutions are also less reliant on individual staff members to perform duties or train others. 

Maintaining Revenue Stability

The sudden drop in elective surgeries and reduction in patient appointments quickly led to a sharp drop-off in revenue for many practices. Even with some face-to-face services restored, many patients are reluctant to seek treatment and enter an environment where the risk of infection is perceived as high. 

Furthermore, the CDC recently released new guidelines eliminating patient penalties for cancelations and missed appointments related to respiratory illness, making it harder for practices to recoup losses. 

By adopting Electronic Funds Transfer and Electronic Remittance Advice (EFT/ERA), practices can maintain a steady stream of completely contactless revenue from payers that also post directly to the bank. Practice management systems can easily be configured to import 835 data to settle accounts. The process is simple and can automate much of the back-end work that is often laborious for administrative personnel. 

How Zelis Payments Can Help

There’s never been a better time to re-evaluate your claims reimbursement process. Switching to electronic payments could save the medical and dental industries a potential $915 million annually

According to the 2019 CAQH Index, the greatest savings opportunities associated with transitioning to electronic payments include prior authorization ($12.31 per transaction), claim status inquiry ($7.72 per transaction), and eligibility and benefit verification ($7.55 per transaction).

The CAQH Index also indicates that electronic remittance advice is the third-highest cost savings opportunity for the medical industry, and the second-highest cost savings opportunity for the dental industry. Eliminating the mostly duplicative uses of web portals accounts for 76 percent of the savings opportunity, which amounts to $1.9 billion for the medical industry and $799 million for the dental industry.

Shifting from paper checks to an automated clearing house (ACH) not only allows your practice to reduce interpersonal contact, but it can also result in significant improvements in efficiency, payment transparency, and speed of payment. Electronic payments are posted up to two weeks faster than mailed checks, allowing healthcare providers to increase cash flow and reinvest in essentials such as personal protective equipment. 

With Zelis ACH, your payments are made directly into your account no matter who is in the office.

The secure provider portal also protects payment data. Providers can remotely access and download payment files for up to ten years, eliminating the need for physical storage of payment information. Our free provider portal also allows you to download and import electronic remittances directly into your practice management or accounting system via standard 835, CSV, and more; view, download, and print your explanation of payment (EOP); and export individual or all payments right into your accounting system. 

We may be living in uncertain times, but that doesn’t mean you can’t equip your business with the tools necessary to stay operational and profitable. Download our eBook to help you navigate the payment challenges ahead or call 855.774.4395 to get started.

This article was created in collaboration with the sponsoring company and our sales and marketing team. The editorial team does not contribute.