To successfully operate a healthcare practice, it is of utmost importance that you consider the security of your patient information, especially when it comes to payment information. You must ensure that you consider HIPAA security measures, and that you appropriately implement them within your business processes so that all payments are processed on time, and are accurate. Efficient payment processing can result in faster payments, elevate the quality of your practice by paving the way for new investments, and is a great way to increase customer satisfaction. With online payments for therapists, you can rest easy knowing your finances are in secure hands, and you can confidently prioritize patient needs without worrying about data leaks and hacks.
How are HIPAA and credit card processing linked?
To understand the link between HIPAA and credit card processing, it’s important to first understand how business associates work. A business associate is considered as a financial institution that processes transactions by credit card, among other activities. These may include practice management, reporting services and medical billing services. Essentially, the processor is conducting a variety of HIPAA-covered activities on behalf of the provider. When dealing with a business associate, when it comes to HIPAA payment methods, you must have a business associate agreement in order to properly secure personal health information.
Who is involved in credit card transactions
It can be helpful to understand how credit card transactions work, and while it can get complicated, we’re here to simplify things for you. There are four actors involved in standard credit card transactions:
- The merchant
- The acquiring bank
- The issuing bank
- The network
Each has a distinct role to play, starting with the merchant. When you purchase a good or service with a credit card, the merchant is the one who is selling you the product. For example, if you choose to purchase a health practice management software, the merchant is the owner of the service. The acquiring bank is the one related to the merchant and provides them with the ability to accept credit cards. Conversely, the issuing banks issue the credit cards that you use, and the network connects all processes and parties together. You may be surprised to know that you’re already familiar with networks, with these being popular names such as MasterCard, Visa, and American Express.
How can private practitioners remain HIPAA compliant while processing credit cards
To remain HIPAA compliant while processing online payments, private practitioners must set up a variety of safeguards to ensure that credit card data is at minimal risk from leakage. For instance, you must always only provide the necessary information for successful payments. This means that you shouldn’t disclose details concerning the treatment and level of care and that any receipts are sent via secure channels. In terms of the broad overview of your systems, you should have encrypted servers at every point of communication, and at every data intersection. Having these measures in place should significantly reduce the chances of information being jeopardized, as all sensitive data is translated into a scrambled set of codes that only you have access to. In regards to credit card information, payment card data shouldn’t be stored electronically, and should also be compatible with EMV chip technology to ensure patients can process payments securely.
Data security standard to follow in card payment processing
To set you on the right track, we’re touching upon the most important data security standard that you must comply with when processing card payments. We understand that it can get tricky fast and that it can be quite intimidating when dealing with private data. However, following this standard ensures that you’re protected and that you adhere to HIPAA guidelines.
PCI - Known as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard in full (PCI DSS), these regulations ensure that you process all card payment information securely. It has multiple merchant-level standards according to the number of transactions you process per year and applies to any organization regardless of size (even if you’re a startup!). Level 1 caters to those with over 6 million transactions per year, with the lowest Level 4 detailing information for those who have less than 20,000 transactions per year. But, no matter how many transactions you make, you must ensure that you accept and process the right type of cardholder data, with PCI enabling you to do so.
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Benefits of using credit card payments for private practice?
As the most common payment method in the United States, using credit card payments for healthcare services can prove immensely beneficial to your practice. Implementing their use can elevate and enhance the quality of your business tenfold, and its services offer a variety of benefits, including:
Attract more clients - Simply put, having credit card payment options can open your doors to a greater clientele, due to its convenience. Businesses that operate through cash-only methods can severely hinder their sales, and prevent their customer base from growing.
Improves cash flow - Credit card transactions are a great way to process payment information quickly and can reduce the likelihood of issues concerning checks, billing, and invoice collections.
Low costs - Credit card processing has also never been more affordable with the introduction of merchant service packages, which can easily work within the budget of your practice. There are a variety of providers out there that support businesses of all different sizes to implement credit cards within their services.
Legitimizes your business - Because most businesses offer credit card payment options, it's important that simply having them can positively benefit the reputation and image of your business. Customers are much more likely to trust your services in seeing you offer commonplace credit card methods.
How is a credit card payment processed
To better understand credit card payments within the healthcare context, it’s important that you consider how the cards are actually processed. In acknowledging this information, you can provide better services in recognizing the function of payments, and how they should operate.
In a single payment, there are five factors involved (including the actors as previously touched on), which include the one who possesses the card, the cardholder, and the credit card issuer (usually a bank) who provided the cardholder with the card. The healthcare provider is typically the one who accepts the payment, and the credit card brand or network allows for this transaction between the provider and the financial institution that issued the card. As you can see, there are quite a few factors involved in just one payment action!
As for when the payment actually commences, the cardholders will swipe their card, or enter it, within the reader of the healthcare provider. This can be either through an online transaction portal, or a physical reader. Once the request has been received by the credit card processor and sent to the credit card network, the transaction is then confirmed or denied. Banks, credit unions, and any financial institution will then check the cardholder's account and credit history. If all goes well, the credit card company will approve the transaction, in addition to the processor and the healthcare provider.
Best practices in HIPAA compliant payment processing
Being HIPAA compliant isn’t as simple as working with the right credit card companies, providers, and processors. In order to keep patient information safe and secure, you must consider a variety of practices to maintain HIPAA compliance and protect all data points. You should be of complete confidence that you’re storing patient health information securely, and that you consistently prioritize the safety of their details. To do so, consider the following practices:
Research payment processors - You should always spend time researching and evaluating your payment processor, and checking they comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS). This covers a variety of important information, including authentication data, breach responses, and encryption. It’s highly important that payment processors consider who has access to their information at every point of communication, and that they demonstrate an advanced understanding of security standards. And of course, they must also be HIPAA compliant!
Use encryption - Make sure that you use modern encryption services, such as P2PE, as this means cybersecurity criminals are highly unlikely to read and access your information. It’s the easiest way to keep data protected, and it means you will rarely have to worry about security!
Implement EMV compatible services - Over 80% of businesses nowadays use EMV chip technology as it encrypts information every time it is accessed or interacted with. This is much more efficient and secure as compared to the typical credit card swipe method, where magnetic stripes are highly susceptible to data hacks and credit fraud.
Make it your own! - Sometimes what’s out there isn’t necessarily the best fit for your practice. And that’s okay! There’s nothing wrong with deciding to design a system that best accommodates your business needs and preferences. In fact, this practice can often be the best thing for your business, as you can maximize efficiency to the highest extent in regard to the resources you currently have, and you can prioritize the needs of your patient. It’s important that whatever you decide to implement, you consider end-to-end encryption to secure patient data confidentiality, and that you also have analytical features. This way, you can monitor your payments, and easily identify areas of weakness to improve upon. Designing your own system can also mean that you can create an interface that is easy to use, and incorporates whichever payment methods you find most useful.
Tips to use payment processing apps
One of the best ways to handle payment processing, without having to stress over every HIPAA violation, is to use a payment processing app! They’ve already figured out the hard stuff for you, and any reputable app will already adhere to HIPAA guidelines and have the right security measures in place. You can process payments seamlessly and without fuss. To help you out, we’ve collated some top tips to help you choose the right one:
Aim for integration - Payment processing apps are no use if they can’t integrate with your current system. You don’t want to do double the amount of work just to get your invoices paid and balances made, so make sure that the app does this integration automatically.
Mobile compatibility - While this may be obvious to some, make sure that your payment processing app is compatible with mobiles for easy access and convenience. Even if you prefer laptops or other devices, many of your clients might not!
Multiple payment methods - Ensure that the processing payment app accepts a variety of cards and payment methods. Not every one of your clients will prefer the same way, so having multiple card types accepted, in addition to debit, will allow for more flexibility and freedom.
Ways to avoid violation penalties in HIPAA payment processing
As mentioned, one of the best ways to avoid violation penalties when it comes to HIPAA is to use payment processing applications. If adhering to finicky standards and regulations isn’t your thing - that’s totally okay! It can be very overwhelming, and sometimes it simply is a whole lot easier to take the load off your back and just use a payment processing app instead. Luckily, there are a ton of options out there, and each comes with its own unique features that are worth having a look at.
Using PayPal for online payment
One you’ve probably heard of, PayPal is one of the best options when it comes to online payments. Most US citizens have a PayPal account that is universally accepted across hundreds of countries, which is great for working with remote clients. It’s very straightforward, easy to use, and provides you with an extra layer of security. You can rest easy knowing your finances are in good hands, with encryption protecting all credit card information. There are no fees included, however if you want instant access to your funds, there is a 1% fee. PayPal also tends to freeze accounts quite strictly, which can sometimes be an issue.
Using Venmo for online payment
As another population option, Venmo is great as it quickly processes payments, and caters to both debit and credit cards. It is completely free to transfer money from bank accounts and debits, however, there is a low fee for any credit card payments. The Venmo app is particularly useful as you can add clients easily, and is more socially friendly. However, all payments are public by default, with prohibited international transactions, and are also unable to be canceled. This could prove inconvenient when dealing with clients if you’re a remote business and can make things trickier when it comes to managing more complicated finances.
Using Zelle for online payment
Zelle makes for a nice free option that also processes payments quickly with secure transactions. Specifically, Zelle is a solid option due to its ability to integrate with many banking apps within the United States. Keep in mind that this does mean Zelle is also exclusive to America, and cannot handle international transactions. There are some payment limits, however, there are no receiving limits, and you don’t need the recipient’s banking information which is handy.
HIPAA compliance is an essential factor that must be considered across all business operations when it comes to online payments, and credit card processing. Successful healthcare practices must demonstrate knowledge of security practices and must be able to effectively carry them out in order to protect client information and data.
Here at Carepatron, we hope that this information has helped clarify some of the basics when it comes to payments, and has consolidated your understanding of what it means to be secure in your data. We also acknowledge that this can be difficult to wrap your head around - and don’t worry! For a HIPAA-compliant healthcare payment service, we’re here to help, and with our expertise, you can ensure that your business and patient are in secure hands.
Reduce those HIPAA headaches. Try Carepatron for free today!