Far from being just a card transaction processor, National Data Corp. processed more than half a billion health care claims in 1994 and expects dramatic increases as further automation hits the industry.

Cash management and financial electronic data interchange, another business segment for the Atlanta-based payment processor, includes computerized balance reporting, money transfers, and data exchange. Cash management revenues for the first six months of fiscal 1995 totaled just over $10 million.

Health care is the fastest growing sector of National Data's business. The company said it serves 85% of the pharmacies in the country, as well as doctors' offices, hospitals, and dentists, for a total of 60,000 locations.

Revenues have almost doubled since 1990, to $63 million in fiscal 1994. Fiscal 1995 is already outpacing last year, with $36 million in the first half.

Chairman Robert A. Yellowlees said the company is the nation's top processor of health care claims, connecting its client service providers to 200 insurance and managed care companies, including Kaiser Permanente and U.S. Healthcare.

The medical industry operates on a paper-based payment system, with less than 10% of all claims processed electronically.

James F. Kissane, an analyst with Salomon Brothers in New York, said National Data is well positioned to take advantage of the predicted evolution to electronic processing.

Richard S. Cohan, senior vice president of health care business development, said growth has been explosive for the company. "In 1988 we processed 700,000 claims in the whole year," he noted. "In January 1995 we hit three million in one day."

Still, Steven S. Birer, an analyst with Hambrecht & Quist of San Francisco, said while the company has made strides in penetrating the pharmacy market, without enough payors on line "it's like a fancy car with no gas - it can't go anywhere."

Mr. Cohan said National Data serves 100% of the payors that are currently automated. Referring to Mr. Birer's analogy, he said, "The challenge for us is to get more payors onto real-time processing capability. Our job is not only to build the cars but to build the gas stations."

National Data is putting more effort into signing up payors, by providing enhanced services such as drug utilization review. With this type of service, National Data maintains a data base of information with safe drug combinations and patient data. If the prescription being filled conflicts with other medication the patient is taking, the prescription would automatically be denied.

Mr. Cohan said prescription drug problems cause 20% of the hospitalizations of senior citizens.

National Data has created a number of systems to serve care providers as well. The NDC Dental System allows dentists to combine treatment information with administrative functions. Dentists can store dental records, X-rays, and patient information on personal computers. All would be retrievable with a few keystrokes.

Mr. Birer said that although the new systems can be expensive, they provide organizational benefits and save labor.

With the expanding acceptance of credit cards in doctor's offices, EasyClaimPlus, a simplified terminal released in 1994, provides physicians with an integrated payment service that includes automated medical claims verification and payment as well as credit and debit processing.

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