by Sarah K. White

How Apple Pay is streamlining healthcare payments

Apr 28, 20156 mins
Consumer ElectronicsMobile AppsOperating Systems

Apple Pay has been making headlines in retail an option for mobile payments, but Instamed is the first to bring contactless payments to healthcare.

Mobile payments are the future; at least that’s what we keep hearing. Maybe you’ve used Apple Pay yourself or noticed someone in line holding her smartphone up to a credit card reader. It’s only been around for about six months, but according to Apple, Apple Pay is already accepted at hundreds of thousands of retail stores. Tim Cook feels pretty confident about Apple Pay adoption, stating in an earnings call earlier this year that 2015 will be the “year of Apple Pay.” And as hundreds of thousands of retailers jump on board, so has the healthcare industry.

In April, InstaMed announced its plans to start accepting Apple Pay on iPhone 6, 6 Plus and other compatible iOS devices, including the forthcoming Apple Watch. As the first healthcare-focused company to integrate Apple Pay, it begs the question of how does Apple Pay fit into the future of healthcare?

What is Apple Pay?

First things first, in the unlikely event you haven’t heard of Apple Pay, it’s the company’s most recent foray into mobile payments. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus both feature Near Field Communication (NFC), enabling you to pay for services and goods via contactless readers using the built-in biometric fingerprint. If you have an iPhone 5, 5S, or 5C — devices without NFC technology – you will be able to use the contactless payment via the Apple Watch if you decide purchase one.

As long as your bank supports Apple Pay, and you have a compatible device, you can head into any store that accepts contactless payments. When it comes time to check out, just hold your device up to the card reader with your thumb on the home button. Once the payment goes through, you will be notified with a vibration and a beep; no need to even look at your screen. Apple touts it as simple, secure and available in hundreds of thousands of stores that accept contactless payments.

Apple Pay’s role in healthcare

Instamed’s adoption of Apple Pay is billed as an easy and convenient way for patients to settle their co-pay. In the future, the company hopes patients will be able to use Apple Pay for all of your medical bills. The company also states that you can use Apple Pay within apps that are offered by health insurance providers or healthcare facilities. As long as those apps support Apple Pay, of course.

“The future is pretty broad, and it can be the payment functionality for all of your bills, all through one touch and instant verification,” David Vielehr, general manager of InComm Healthcare & Affinity,says. Vielehr also points out how Apple Pay can help streamline the cluttered payment process in healthcare. “As more things become digitized in healthcare, Apple becomes the perfect partner to facilitate that. When you can instantly authenticate yourself as a payer and make a payment through Apple Pay, it’s going to make for a much more seamless experience than today,” states Vielehr.

The last time you received a medical bill, you probably saw an explanation of benefits, a separate bill for what you actually owed and then another document outlining who paid what. In the end, it’s a lot of back and forth and riffling through your mail to make sure you pay every bill. It can make for confused patients, who may in turn leave bills unpaid, saddling them with unnecessary bad debt.

“Approximately 20 percent of consumers have unpaid healthcare bills as a result of confusion in the payments process. This will only grow as more and more consumers continue to enroll in high deductible health plans,” Instamed CTO and Co-Founder Chris Sieb said in a press release.

It seems natural that Apple Pay would work its way into healthcare, especially as the healthcare field is experiencing this boom in technology, thanks in part to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Starting in 2014, healthcare facilities were asked to demonstrate meaningful use of electronic health records (EHR) in order to continue receiving Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements, along with other monetary incentives.

With the adoption of EHR in healthcare, billing and payments are already starting to move online. If your doctor’s office doesn’t already have an online portal to view and pay your bills, or even schedule appointments, communicate with your physician, and view lab results, they probably will soon.

How secure is Apple Pay?

Whenever you combine sensitive personal data with technology, it’s understandable that people might feel uneasy – especially given high-profile security breaches at major retailers, such as Target and Home Depot. Since then, it seems that both businesses and customers are realizing the true vulnerabilities of credit cards.

As it turns out, Apple Pay in and of itself is pretty secure thanks to a tokenization and encryption process that will anonymize your data. Your data and card information are translated into an identification number that maps back to your data. Apple Pay doesn’t hold onto your credit card numbers, expiration date or CVV number after you enroll. Instead, it turns it into a personal ID token that is then used to communicate between the bank and retailer.

However, even Apple Pay isn’t immune to fraud, with recent reports suggesting there are some vulnerabilities to the process. The most important step of the verification process takes place when you set up your Apple Pay account. You simply snap a photo of your credit card, and then the app verifies your banking information by matching it with data already stored on your iPhone. This may include your location, data in your Apple account and details about your handset.

If you set up Apple Pay in a location that doesn’t match your banking info, or with a handset that isn’t tied to your personal information, you’ll receive a phone call. This call is intended to avoid fraud and prevent someone from loading your banking information onto their smartphone. However, if that person has enough information to answer the verification questions, they might still get through the system.

It isn’t as big of an issue for individuals who already have their banking information through Apple Pay; the risk is bigger for those who haven’t yet tied their credit cards to Apple Pay. And, of course, there is always the risk that someone might steal your device, but if you set up remote access to wipe your device and have a security code in place, that will help deter any issues.

Apple Pay can make healthcare payments more secure

When you make payments to your healthcare provider or insurance company, you inherently involve more personal information than if you, say, ran to the store for a loaf of bread. Your explanation of benefits, the statement your healthcare provider sends you, and any information from your insurance company often sit right in your mailbox.

To Instamed, implementing Apple Pay seems like a natural step in the growing world of healthcare technology. And it makes sense; having the capability to pay instantly with biometrics over traditional methods of payment does sound like the future. However, adoption will be the next step, and it stands to be seen how fast healthcare facilities will follow Instamed’s suit and make the move towards mobile payments.