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Austin Regional: Wireless-Linked Computers Speed Billing at Medical Clinics

Medical clinics are fast becoming the leading alternative to hospital-based treatment. Austin Regional Clinic is a collection of multispecialty clinics in Austin, Texas, employing 130 medical professionals who treat hundreds of patients a day. Austin Regional recently installed a wireless LAN to handle the increasing patient load and expedite insurance billing.

Application: Medical Professionals Transmit Patient Service Information Directly to a Billing System
The billing system at Austin Regional's clinics used to be based on volumes of paper notes on treatments and services rendered to patients. Each doctor's notes had to be transcribed, checked, and corrected before they were passed on to insurance companies as bills for service. The paper system was expensive, and it prevented bills from being issued until at least two weeks from the date of treatment.

To minimize the paperwork and its associated costs and to reduce the delay in billing, Austin Regional decided in 1994 to automate its billing process. It gave medical professionals at 11 of its 19 clinics pen-based, hand-held computers that would accept patient service information and transmit it to the central billing system. To link the computers to each clinic's central server, Austin Regional installed wireless LAN adapters on computers in each clinic's existing wired network.

Now medical professionals at Austin Regional can record office visits, lab work, X-rays, and other treatments and submit billing information on the spot. The wireless LAN uploads the information directly to the clinic's server; in turn, the hard-wired LAN transfers the information to the corporate database. Bills are issued within 24 hours of a patient's visit.

Benefits: Faster Billing, Installation and Maintenance Cost Savings, Better Work Flow
The wireless installation's primary benefit is that it lets the clinics recover costs more quickly, but it also "saves the costs of pulling cable and maintaining a cable-based network," says Audrey Nudd, chief information officer at Austin Regional. Plus, it gives medical professionals the freedom they need to walk from room to room while still retaining full access to the server.

Furthermore, says Nudd, "eliminating massive amounts of paper has not only reduced paper handling costs, it has cut down on transcription errors, which in turn has improved work flow."

Nudd calculates that each clinic will fully recover the cost of installing its system only 1.2 years after the date of installation. Even more important, the wireless system gives medical professionals at the clinics a tool that is quick and easy to use.

Installation Size
Austin Regional's wireless system is now in place at 12 of its 19 clinics, where more than 250 wireless adapters have been installed in both mobile computers and stationary PCs. Plans to expand the system to the remaining clinics are under way.

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