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Does your behavioral health practice need credit card processing built right into the EHR, or will a third-party service do? Practice size, long-term goals, and budget will all factor into the decision, but here’s a basic overview of the differences between integrated vs. non-integrated credit card processing and how each type may affect your business.

Integrated vs Non-Integrated Credit Card Processing: What’s the difference?

The difference between these two methods—third-party card processing vs. card processing within the EHR—may seem simple. But these two methods can lead to very different experiences for providers, clients, and staff.

Non-Integrated Overview

If you don’t have EHR credit card integration, you’ll find a third party to process all card transactions at your practice. Card processing merchants range from large companies with complex software solutions to small services with simple card terminals. Likewise, the price for services from these different merchants can vary significantly. The smaller, simpler solutions will have smaller price tags and may, in some cases, not even require a monthly fee. The trade-off is limited functionality; you can process transactions, and that’s about it. The larger companies command higher fees but offer robust features like reporting, charge-back support, etc.

No matter what type of vendor you choose, you’ll have to transfer your clients’ card information to them somehow. Often, this is done through logging in to a separate software or using a point-of-sale terminal.

Unfortunately, these methods are ripe for human error. If staff key in customer card information, they may make typos or miss details. Even if you have a device that allows clients to swipe their card without staff involvement, staff will still need to log the payment into your own books, which leaves your records open to the same human error mistakes.

At the very least, swiping cards, keying information, and dealing with mistakes makes every payment take longer. At worst, it can lead to an inconsistent or even negative client experience.

Mistakes in your records may lead to mistakes in billing, which you and your clients will spend time sorting out. Problems with card scanners can bog down the workflow of check-in and check-out for your practice’s busy patients. You’ll also need to research how much technical support your practice will receive from your third-party processor. If your card reader breaks, how quickly can you get a response from your processing service? If customers have questions about their payments, who do they contact—you, or the third party? Will your clients have to deal with your processing service themselves when seeking answers about payments, and will this service offer them the same level of customer service that you are committed to bringing to your clients? If your office has questions, is tech support easy to access?

If you’re considering a non-integrated credit card processing system, you’ll want to do your research to answer these questions before you commit.

Integrated Credit Card Processing Overview

When comparing integrated vs. standalone credit card processing, integration answers many of the problems and limitations of standalone systems.

First of all, integrated card processing drastically cuts down on the steps involved in taking payments and updating records, so it creates a more efficient workflow for providers and administrators and an easier experience for clients. Card data is entered into your system once and stored there where it can easily be selected to apply to payments later, with the client’s permission. Clients won’t even have to pull out their wallet after their first visit with your practice.

Integrated credit card processing makes other conveniences easier too, like online bill pay through your patient portal. If your patient portal and credit card processing both run through the EHR, it’s easier to make the two systems “talk” to each other than if you were trying to coordinate different third-party software systems.

Integrated processing also eliminates most of the “handoff” moments where typos and mistakes creep in to customer payment records. This safeguard against careless mistakes makes the patient experience that much better, and staff will spend less time chasing down answers to errors.

Staff and providers can enjoy a centralized location for transactions without signing in to additional software solutions. This frees up time, and the efficient use of time is an important ingredient for success at any behavioral health practice. Even when questions or problems do arise, you can turn to the same support system that provides your EHR software. Answers come faster when everything is on the same system and your tech support person knows how everything works.

How Integrated vs Non-Integrated Credit Card Processing Affects Your Practice

How does all of this affect your practice? EHR credit card integration boosts immediate cash flow and, ultimately, revenue. Card payment is the best way to get paid quickly, so the more convenient the process, the more clients will pay you right away as opposed to via check or through the mail. You can keep accounts receivable a little lower, cut down on the time and expense of bill collection, and make your cash flow more predictable, which in turn keeps you on track to pay providers on time.

Happy providers support the health and growth of your practice. So do staff members whose time is freed up from tedious payment processing and made available for other tasks. Depending on the size of your practice, integrated credit card processing may spare you from having to hire extra hands to manage the payment logistics.

Integrated credit card processing can also help you with the mundane problems we don’t immediately think of when setting up a payment system, such as how to handle charge-backs and how to fix technical difficulties. Many providers also neglect to consider the role that reporting plays in credit card payments. Integrated card processing puts all information for every charge within your system for easy retrieval and review.

And, of course, a practice that runs smoothly and is staffed with efficient and happy providers will give your clients confidence in your services. At the end of the day, serving clients better is the ultimate goal. Integration of daily processes like credit card payments can help you get there.