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Northwest Health: Greater Profits and More Comprehensive Care at a Small Clinic

The challenge to do more with less is driving primary providers throughout the health care industry to look for more efficient ways to run their practices. As administrative burdens rise and reimbursement rates decline, every provider is asking the same question: How can they lower operating expenses, increase the number of patient visits, and make care faster and more convenient? And how can they accomplish those objectives with a rapid financial return on investment and little or no added system support? A small naprapathic and chiropractic clinic in Chicago, Illinois, is one provider that has found answers to those questions.

Application: Connecting Pen-Based Mobile Computers to the Office's Wired Network
NAt Northwest Health Center in Chicago, Illinois, the clinic's two doctors see patients in six treating rooms. As they go from patient to patient, they record S.O.A.P. (subjective, objective, assessment, plan) notes.

Before Northwest installed its wireless LAN, doctors had access to patient records only through the PCs in its front office. Now, with wireless-adapted, pen-based mobile computers and commercially available S.O.A.P. software, not only can Northwest's partners access patient records from any room in the office, they can enter notes on the spot, as they provide care. Setting up the wireless LAN and connecting it to the existing Ethernet network was easy: The partners did it themselves in about two hours.

Benefits: One-Step Documentation Means Lower Costs, a Faster Process, and More Complete Care
Says Northwest Health Center partner Richard Warren, D.N., "We wanted to improve the speed and convenience of doing our job - and we did. I would absolutely recommend that other practices do this. The combination of the wireless LAN and S.O.A.P. software speeds up the process of providing care and allows us to see more patients - I'd say we're seeing three to four more patients per day."

Because doctors at Northwest Health now have mobile access to patient records as they go from room to room providing treatment, they never have to go back to a computer on the wired network, and no one has to transcribe or dictate notes for entry into a computer in the front office. By freeing the documentation process from paper and desktop computers, the wireless system eliminated the need for at least one part-time employee at the front desk dedicated to transcription. That saved at least $10,000 to $12,000 a year and made the system pay for itself in less than a year. An additional benefit of the notes generated through the S.O.A.P. software is better documentation for insurance billing and letters to attorneys in legal cases.

The wireless network also gives doctors access to information that they otherwise would not have access to while with a patient. And, because the network gives doctors access to all of the network's services, such as printing, "we can print a patient note or schedule an appointment and send that information wirelessly to our front office," says Warren. "We can even access a patient's record, enter a treatment plan, and enter the financial transaction directly. The information goes right into the hard drive on our file server, which is backed up every night."

Installation Size
Northwest's wireless network consists of two pen-based computers with wireless LAN adapters linked to the wired network through two access points. Since the wireless backbone is already in place, if another doctor joins the practice, expanding the wireless network will be as easy as buying another mobile computer and wireless adapter.

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