Business

Local medical company now takes bitcoins as payment

BY SHAMILLE SCOTT Business reporter scotts@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, January 15, 2014    

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FOR some, accepting a virtual unregulated currency as payment may seem like a leap into the unknown.

Sir Richard Branson and Overstock.com made that jump. For Branson, it was one more way to be forward- thinking, and Overstock's boss believes it can boost the company's bottom line.

Now, a Jamaican medical imaging company is accepting bitcoins as payment.

Kingston Open MRI began using the currency last December primarily to provide a cost-effective, easy method to pay for its services and broaden the payment options available to its patients, allowing them to take advantage of free payment processing, according to Jean Edmond Gaetjens, CEO of the company.

"This revolutionary technology will especially benefit patients who utilise foreign remittances to pay for health service, as wire transfer fees are wholly circumvented," he said.

Bitcoin is the first decentralised peer-to-peer payment network that is powered by its users with no central authority. Basically, it's cash for the Internet, that doesn't exist in the physical world.

Transactions are secured by military grade cryptography, which makes it secure; easy to use, and functional anywhere and everywhere, according to bitcoin.org.

As for merchants, there are fewer risks because Bitcoin transactions do not contain customers' sensitive or personal information, which protects companies from losses caused by fraud, bitcoin.org said.

"As one of the new companies in the medical diagnostics field, we strive to be innovative," said Doreen Darien, manager at Kingston Open MRI, who claims the company is the only one of its kind in the island where patients' scans can be done without going under the tunnel.

"We came because there is no other like us and there is a market for this open concept," Darien said. "To complement this, we examined other payment methods for our patients."

There hasn't been any take- up by the facilty's patients as yet, since the payment option was introduced during the Christmas period when business was closed and Kingston Open MRI only re-opened last week.

A growing number of businesses are welcoming the virtual currency worldwide.

Players of FarmVille 2, a farming simulation game, CastleVille, ChefVille, CoasterVille, Hidden Chronicles, Hidden Shadows and CityVille, also have the option to make in-game purchases using the currency.

Users store Bitcoin in a digital wallet, an open source software programme that will generate a Bitcoin address.

The currency can be acquired in a number of ways, by buying them from a bitcoin currency exchange such as MT Gox or Bitstamp as well as through a service, such as BitInstant, which enables fund transfer between Bitcoin exchanges and supports various payment mechanisms such as Paypal and credit cards.

One bitcoin currently sells for US$819.98 on Bitstamp. But its value has fluctuated dramatically on occasions. Time Magazine reported that between December 6 and 7 of last year, the value of one Bitcoin fell from US$1,200 to US$600 in the course of 48 hours. Of course, such movements could impair a business.

Even so, businesses can quickly convert the Bitcoin.

"The truth is, in general the usage of Bitcoin is picking up in momentum, and as the momentum in a general way builds up, we hope it will be translated on the local front," said Darien.

And considering that the currency is in its embryonic stage, Kingston Open MRI may have to convince its customers to use the currency, which has been restricted in China, in effect making it impossible for banks to use them in transactions.

Chinese online retail giant Alibaba banned the use of bitcoins, while Taobao, Alibaba's third-party online marketplace, was ordered to shut down bitcoin trading by China's central bank.

China enforces strict controls on its currency, the renminbi, and the growing popularity of bitcoin had become problematic for the state, the Telegraph reported.

A government that chooses to ban bitcoin would prevent domestic businesses and markets from developing, shifting innovation to other countries, said bitcoin.org.

At least one local tech expert has a burst of cautious optimism for the use of bitcoins locally.

"I find it interesting that we have become curious and have moved to integrate it locally, despite the currency not being mainstream,"

said Ingrid Riley, executive director of ConnectiMass, a non-profit that teaches

and promotes tech entrepreneurship and innovation.

What's more, bitcoins have grown in credibility because of other entrepreneurs who have bought into it, notably Marc Andreeson, the co-author of web-browser Mosaic through investments in Coinbase Inc, a provider of bitcoin accounts. While the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler, who sued Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg, claiming he stole their ConnectU idea, have pumped money into Bitinstant, a payment processor.

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