Physicians Can Expect More Digital Patient ID Cards

AAFP Works With Aetna to Ease Transition

February 23, 2016 05:08 pm Sheri Porter

Family physician Pennie Marchetti, M.D., sole proprietor of Primary Care Physicians of Stow in Hudson, Ohio, runs a practice with some of the latest high-tech conveniences. For instance, new patients can preregister for an appointment by visiting the practice's web portal.

[Health insurance card will pills laying on top]

Established patients are invited to communicate via the same web portal, where they can also securely view their test results, read medical record summaries and request prescription refills. The portal also features a smartphone app for patients who want to view their medical record on the go.

But sometimes technology gets a little ahead of itself.

Such is the case when patients show up at the front desk with a cell phone image of their digital health insurance ID card, said Marchetti.

"I have had this happen on several occasions," Marchetti told AAFP News. "The problem for us is that when it is on their phone, we can't easily input the information into our electronic health record to do the billing properly. My office printers are not enabled to print from smartphones, so we can't get a hard copy."

Story Highlights
  • Aetna is just one of many private health insurers expanding the use of digital ID cards for their plan members.
  • The trend is growing, in part, due to patient demand for the technology.
  • Practices can accept ID cards in a variety of formats including the familiar plastic card, a card image stored on a digital device or a printed paper copy.

Bottom line, "It delays the billing submission process," said Marchetti.

But are digital ID cards becoming a trend in the world of health insurance?

It appears so.

According to Courtney Jay, deputy director of media relations for America's Health Insurance Plans, several of the association's member plans are moving to mobile ID cards, in part because that's what some patients want.

"These approaches allow consumers to have ready access to their ID card information via an application on their phone -- which includes the same information that is on their printed ID cards today," Jay told AAFP News.

"As plans are working through various approaches, they are working closely with their providers who depend on this information when communicating with the health plan about its enrollees," Jay added.

Count Aetna among those insurers embracing the technology. In fact, the AAFP recently began a conversation with Aetna after hearing that the company was expanding its use of digital ID cards this year.

Advance Insurance Verification Saves Time, Hassles

Want to keep your practice running efficiently? Some medical practices stay on top of their packed appointment schedules by verifying patients' insurance benefits at least one day prior to the appointment. Such is the case with family physician Rebekah Bernard, M.D., of Estero, Fla., who may see 40 to 50 patients on a typical day at Estero Urgent Care.

Office manager Ashley Law told AAFP News that preparing patient charts ahead of time -- including running that all-important insurance eligibility check -- can cut the patient check-in process from about 25 minutes to less than two.

"It's definitely a 'make it or break it' in this practice because of our volume," said Law. "Doing that work in real time would create unnecessary ripples in the work flow."

Advance verification can also help avoid awkward front desk-situations with patients, said Glenn Bair, Aetna senior project manager for provider e-solutions. "It's always better to know your reimbursement scenario upfront rather than after the fact," he said in an interview.

The AAFP learned that most Aetna plan members would continue to receive plastic cards as usual but that digital ID cards could serve as a replacement for those cards. And Aetna is encouraging patients to access a digital version of their ID cards on mobile devices.

Glenn Bair, Aetna's senior project manager for provider e-solutions, said it's all about individual preferences. Consumers certainly can request -- and will receive -- a plastic card, he said. (Enrollees in Aetna Medicare and Medicaid plans will continue to use plastic ID cards due to regulatory requirements.)

Bair told AAFP News that Aetna has offered digital cards to members and health care providers for several years. The company now is focused on educating both groups that ID cards are accessible in a variety of formats including the familiar plastic card, an image saved on a digital device or even a paper copy printed out by patients or providers from Aetna's web portals.

"What family physicians need to know is that all of those formats are acceptable as a proof of insurance," said Bair.

He reminded physicians that they don't have to have patients' insurance cards to submit eligibility and benefits inquiries -- a process he said is completed for Aetna patients more than 30 million times each month.

All a practice needs is the patient's name and date of birth to successfully run that check, said Bair. Such inquiries should be completed for every patient at every visit, he added.

Physicians who've been surveyed by Aetna about the use of digital ID cards have mixed reactions. "Physicians say digital cards create more work for them, but times are changing so they're not surprised" that the trend is catching on with patients, said Bair.