A recent survey of US-based physicians revealed that nearly one-third of them do not accept credit cards for payment.

In the current economic climate, it makes no sense for physicians to not provide as many payment plans as possible.

However, where does one begin looking for information about patient-financing options? Online, of course.

Physicians can offer their patients several options for payment other than cash or checks. The world of patient financing has grown into a sophisticated and reliable system, with high-profile banks (such as Citibank) and financial service firms (such as GE Money) providing attractive loans and other products.

A number of banks and financial services firms offer programs to help practices gear up for offering patient-financing programs, and may throw in a marketing plan that can help your practice get the word out about new programs.

To begin with, identify your clients’ demographics and then research the various offerings from banks and other organizations.

Prepare a “script” that you and your staff will use when introducing your financing options to prospective patients; and roll out your financing program and allocate needed staff to the task.

INTERNET RESOURCES

Although it is very important that the patient puts in a diligent effort to research the best possible financing plan, many patients do not do this.

Due to this reality, you and your staff must be ready to step in and explain the options.

The options available to both patient and physician are growing. Just weeks before it completed the financial bailout of Bear Stearns, JPMorgan Chase & Co announced that it would join GE Money, Citibank, and Capital One in aggressively pursuing the lucrative patient-financing market by buying Unicorn Financial Services.

Why are major banking firms so interested in patient financing? For one, it is what journalist wags call a “nascent market” with very little competition.

There are very few major players in the field and hundreds of millions of dollars to be made.

This leads to the second reason: Some Americans are willing to pay 12% to 25% interest for medical financing. In other words, it is extremely profitable for the financing companies.

A wide range of no-interest and low-interest payment plans are routinely offered by the major patient-financing lenders.

Talking Points

  • Be more informed than your patients—do your research and educate your staff on the growing, changing lineup of options.
  • Practices must be able to articulate those options to confused or uninformed patients.
  • Some Americans are willing to pay 12% to 25% interest for medical financing.
  • Consider offering more than one financing option.
  • A wide range of no-interest and low-interest payment plans are routinely offered by the major lenders.
  • Most of these lending agencies offer monthly payment options.
  • Applications can be processed at the office or at home, if the patient desires.
  • The online-based services offer fast approvals/disapprovals, usually completed within minutes after the application is processed.

Most of these lending agencies offer monthly payment options—some at 0% interest. (This may not be an option for patients with low credit scores.)

Applications can be processed at the office—or at home, if the patient desires.

In addition, companies typically provide multiple methods to process applications, such as phone, automated phone, fax, and online.

Most of the online-based services offer fast approvals, usually completed within minutes after the application is processed.

For example, in the case of CareCredit (see below), you receive approvals within a few minutes of applying. Your practice, in turn, receives the money for the procedure(s) in a few days.

Do not ignore credit card companies. These firms may have a patient-financing program tucked away in their product offerings.

For example, MBNA, one of the leading credit card processors in the country, can add a patient-financing plan to an existing merchant account. The charges are typical of the other big banks (Citibank, Bank One, etc), but local banks tend to charge about 3/10 of a percent more than MBNA.

Those fractions of percentage points will add up over time, to possibly significant savings, depending on your practice’s volume.

GROWTH INDUSTRY

According to management consulting firm McKinsey & Co, the patient-financing market is growing quickly, from $250 billion in 2005 to a projected $420 billion by 2015.

One of the most popular options, aesthetic surgery credit cards, exist specifically to help people finance procedures that they would literally not have been able to finance otherwise.

However, this is not the only choice, and practices must be able to articulate those choices to confused or uninformed patients.

At the end of the day, a rule of thumb is to be more informed than your customers.

Currently, there is wealth of information online. Some of the Web sites listed below are “meta sites” that aggregate content and hyperlinks to follow for further research.

Capital One Healthcare Financing

www.capitalonehealthcarefinance.com/cosmetic

  • Offers installment loans from $750 to $25,000, with fixed rates from 5.9% APR to 13.9% APR.
  • In addition, the firm offers interest-free loans for up to 18 months to qualified applicants.
  • A 22.99% retroactive APR will be applied to the balance of an interest-free loan if it is not paid in full by the end of the interest-free period.
  • The company offers an online application form; users can receive a decision about financing within minutes. Monthly payments are fixed, and there are no prepayment penalties.

CareCredit

www.carecredit.com/practices/cosmetic

  • Revolving credit for ongoing care—a credit card, in other words, but one that the patient can use repeatedly without having to reapply.
  • No prepayment penalty; no annual fees. CareCredit payment options include 3-, 6-, and 12-month no-interest payment plans, or 24-, 36-, and 48-month extended payment plans.
  • CareCredit offers financing through GE Money. The firm employs an aggressive marketing plan to physicians.

ChaseHealth Advance

www.chasehealthadvance.com/provider/cosmetic/index.html

  • Patients can apply for surgical financing from $5,000 to $12,000.
  • The firm’s plans range anywhere from 12 months—”same as cash”—up to as long as 36 months with interest.
  • Chase’s fixed interest rates range from 11.99% to 27.99% depending on the applicant’s credit history.

M~Lend Financial

www.mlendfinancial.com

  • Installment loans from $2,000 to $25,000 are offered. Financing is available with 36- to 60-month terms.
  • There are no annual fees. Payment is made directly to your practice or the patient as requested.
  • The company boasts no contracts or agreements, no management fees, and offers “low, fixed interest rates.”
  • In addition, the firm touts 0% APR “introductory financing” for qualified applicants.

PFS (Patient Financial Service)

www.p-f-s.com/providers

  • Loan amounts range from $800 to $25,000 on terms between 24 and 84 months.

Reliance Medical Finance

www.reliancemedicalfinance.com/fordoctors.html

  • Fixed interest rates start at 6.9%.
  • The company offers interest-free plans for the first 3, 6, or 12 months, as well as extended plans from 12 to 60 months with no money down and no prepayment penalty.

SurgeryLoans.com

[removed]www.surgeryloans.com/doctors.cfm[/removed]

  • Loan amounts range from $1,000 to $25,000 on terms up to 60 months, and revolving credit lines for lower monthly payments.
  • Fixed interest rates range from 5.9% to 17.9%. Deferred payment programs of 3, 6, or 12 months are offered.
  • There is no prepayment penalty. The firm offers 3-, 6-, and 12-month, no-interest programs.
  • The firm claims to offer the only exclusive 12-month deferred and no-interest payment programs for patients.

OTHER WEB SITES

APF USA

www.advancedpatient.com/index.html

Covering the Costs of Elective Surgery—Why Patient Financing Makes Sense

www.locateadoc.com/articles.cfm/search/1545

  • You and your staff can use this patient-financing primer as a template for a patient-physician “script”—one in which you can gently inform them of options for paying for a treatment plan without worrying about high up-front costs.

Enhance Patient Financing

www.enhancepatientfinance.com/ppages.asp?page=faqs&ref=

Reference List for Patient Financing

[removed]www.cpas4docs.com/archive/hi/HI5.html#top[/removed]

  • Authored by a CPA firm, this useful article discusses additional patient-financing-oriented firms and resources.

Questions Hospitals Should Ask When Considering a Patient Financing Program

www.csifinancial.com/news/news022506.html

  • From a practitioner’s perspective, this article is food for thought when deciding which financial services firm to use.

Shannon Triplett Leade is a contributing writer to PSP. She can be reached at [email protected]60.com.