Scan insurance cards, too

January 6, 2006

Technology Consult

For as little as $60, you can buy a little scanner for the front desk, capture an image of an insurance card, and save it in your practice management system or a separate directory. The payoff is manifold. Photocopying a card takes a minute or so, and in many offices, the receptionist must leave the front desk in the process. Scanning takes only a few seconds, so if you're processing dozens of cards a day, the time savings add up.

The efficiencies don't stop there. Somebody on your staff is always looking up that card. A billing clerk who's entering charges may need information that was omitted during patient registration. If an insurer denies a claim citing a bad ID number, a person posting payments will want to double-check it on the card. For practices that photocopy cards and file them in a paper chart, such tasks require a time-consuming chart pull. Retrieving a scanned image amounts to a few mouse clicks.

A big letter-sized flatbed scanner accommodates cards as well as regular documents, but it would overwhelm the average front desk as well as attract scan-happy employees to this already hectic area, says Sara Larch, co-author of The Physician Billing Process, published by the Medical Group Management Association. You're better off with a smaller, card-dedicated scanner that plugs into a computer's USB port. While many are advertised as business card readers, they'll work for insurance cards and drivers' licenses, which are worth scanning, too. You electronically store not only the patient's photograph, but also an address if you need to track him down for payment, says computer consultant Rosemarie Nelson in Syracuse.

You'll find inexpensive card scanners at your local office supply store or online. Vendors include Innovative Card Scanning ( http://www.medicscan.com), CardScan ( http://www.cardscan.com), Ambir Technology ( http://www.ambir.com), Visioneer ( http://www.visioneer.com), and Syscan Imaging ( http://www.syscaninc.com). If all you scan are insurance cards, you can get by with a basic model like the Visioneer CardReader 100 for $60, which captures just a black-and-white image. You'll pay more for a color scanner like the CardScan Executive, priced at $250, but it makes sense if you want to scan a driver's license or some other photo ID.

Card scanners typically come with optical character recognition (OCR) software that lets you convert print into editable text. In turn, this text can be automatically uploaded or manually cut and pasted into another program, such as a practice management system. However, FP Floyd "Tripp" Bradd III in Front Royal, VA, is content just to work with an image produced by his MedicScan device from Innovative Card Scanning. He doesn't trust the accuracy of OCR software for something as vital as a patient ID number. "It can interpret a 3 as an 8," says Bradd.

Because insurance cards typically have information on both sides, you must run them through the scanner twice. That routine produces two images. However, MedicScan software combines both of them into a single file, so you can attach them simultaneously to a patient record, says Allen, TX, pediatrician Daniel Moulton, president of Innovative Card Scanning.