Electronic payment: Nearly three in 10 doctors don't take credit cards

May 9, 2008

Talk about being stuck in the 19th century. Twenty-eight percent of medical practices still don’t accept credit cards, according to a survey by SK&A Information Services.

Talk about being stuck in the 19th century. Twenty-eight percent of medical practices still don’t accept credit cards, according to a survey by SK&A Information Services.

True, you’d expect a low rate of plastic payment for some specialists. Only 26 percent of pathologists say they swipe credit cards, but then, they’re usually not having direct encounters with patients, unless they’re deceased.

But get this-only 64 percent of general internists take their patients’ credit cards, even though they’re constantly dealing with $15 and $20 co-pays that could easily be swiped. Family physicians are more automated at 81 percent. The most plastic-friendly doctors are urgent-care specialists at 92 percent. That figure is not surprising since their practices, so dependent on walk-in patients, more closely resemble a retail business than others.

Physicians who won’t accept plastic are financially short-sighted, says healthcare IT consultant Rosemarie Nelson in Syracuse, NY. She says some doctors object to paying a credit-card transaction fee that might amount to 3 percent of a $20 charge, or 60 cents. “What they overlook is that if they have to mail a bill to the patient, it’s costing them at least $3 to $5 in labor and supplies,” says Nelson. “It’s more cost-efficient to take the card at the time of service.” She also notes that fewer and fewer people carry cash and checkbooks with them, underlining the need for a credit-card machine at the check-out counter.

Getting set up for credit-card payments is as easy as calling your local bank, which will walk you through the steps, adds Nelson. For more how-to information, read “Ready, set, swipe” in the Oct. 20, 2006, issue of Medical Economics.

SK&A Information Services asked more than 200,000 practices representing roughly 500,000 physicians whether they accepted credit cards from MasterCard, Visa, Discover, or American Express. Practices were not asked if they accepted debit cards. It’s possible that some practices that shun credit cards take debit cards since the transaction fee for the latter is usually lower, provided that the patient enters his personal identification number, or PIN. If a debit card from MasterCard or Visa is swiped without a PIN, however, the transaction rate for a credit card kicks in.