Are you giving credit when none is due?

According to VISA USA, over 250,000 health care providers accept their credit card as a method of payment. Stacy Lewis, public information officer for VISA, says 92% of medical groups with five or more physicians and more than half of physician offices in the country are among those quarter million providers.

With numbers like that, you might think you are out of sync with the medical world if you don't accept credit card payments. But don't panic. There may be good reason not to.

Cheryl Hamill, office manager of the four physician Ballard Family Medicine in Seattle says her practice started taking cards a year ago, but only for payment of fees over $40. And the practice doesn't advertise the convenience to patients. Why not? Because, says Hamill, patients aren't interested. "We can go months without having a single person pay with a credit card," Hamill says, noting they accept both VISA and MasterCard. "A big month will be two or three."

Hamill thinks that the 20-year history of the practice when it didn't accept the cards keeps patients from feeling the need to use them. "Sometimes we suggest it to patients, but we still don't get many offers.

Other practices see a little more value. Lahey Clinic, a multispecialty practice in Beverly, MA, with about 90 practitioners, has a similar experience at some of its 21 offices. One site, in Foxborough, MA, sees about $3,000 per month in average usage. Others see none.

Offering patients that convenience is the only reason why some practices are willing to pay the fees and commission --about $50 per month plus about 0.25% of the amount of the bills paid with the cards - for accepting the cards.

Lewis says there is some extra work for billing staff, and equipment which must be leased or purchased for processing costs. But, says Hamill, sometimes that extra work is worth it, if even only a few of your patients appreciate it.