Have patients started showing up at your urgent care center displaying a digital health insurance card on their smartphone? If you haven’t seen it yet, you probably will soon.

Courtney Jay, deputy director of media relations for America’s Health Insurance Plans, said in an AAFP News article earlier this year that more plans are moving to mobile ID cards because patients like them.

“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 said.

Advocates for the digital cards say the format allows for the most up-to-date information. With the standard-issue cards, a person could carry it around and claim to have coverage (based on the dates on the card) even if he’s quit his job and voided the insurance.

Of course, using an urgent care EMR system with real time eligibility solves this problem. This software tool allows urgent care front office workers to verify the patient’s insurance coverage upon arrival and collect deductibles and co-pays. This step in the patient registration process helps the urgent care collect some payment from the patient upfront instead of waiting 60 to 90 days for the insurance claim process to play out.

Aetna has offered digital cards to members and healthcare providers for several years, though the company still offers the traditional plastic cards. The insurance company offers a tutorial on processing a digital insurance card here.

A patient using the digital health insurance card would need only to show the smart phone to the front desk, enabling the staff to look the card up online.

Some primary care physicians have expressed concern that the new technology is burdensome to their staffs, because they can’t photocopy a smart phone screen to keep a hard copy of insurance information on file and entered into the EHR for billing. This can delay billing submission, these providers say.

With physical insurance cards today, urgent care centers typically scan or copy both sides of the card to be referenced later on should the billing department have questions about the patient’s policy. While there are not firm guidelines on how “electronic” cards are to be handled, common sense dictates that a center would emulate the process currently used with physical cards. In lieu of scanning the physical card, for instance, this could entail creating a screenshot or saving the website image of the electronic card as a PDF for attachment to the patient’s demographics in the practice management system. Or, perhaps, it could involve printing the electronic card and then scanning the print-out into the system along with other registration paperwork. You should understand your current process for handling physical insurance cards, create modifications to that process for electronic cards, and then train your staff accordingly.

While easier for patients, at first electronic cards may entail extra steps for your front office staff, as it will be more time consuming to locate an electronic card online versus scanning a physical card that’s handed to them. But as more patients present electronic cards and the staff gets more practice in handling them, they should be able to handle the process more quickly.

Urgent care centers should not view the electronic health insurance cards as a stumbling block. Rather, the technology is useful for verifying accurate coverage and patient responsibility. There’s no stemming the tide toward mobile technology.