Wireless LANs Speed Hospital Insurance Payments

FRAMINGHAM (04/10/2000) - The South Jersey Medical System is using wireless LANs to clean up insurance paperwork, logging six-figure savings thanks to payments from insurers that are both speedier and larger.

The Bridgeton, New Jersey-based holding company, which operates four hospitals in New Jersey, was in some instances not being paid in full or at all because of discrepancies in treatment codes entered by hospital officials. Each code refers to a specific procedure that may or may not be covered by an individual's insurance policy.

When Francois Bodhuin, director of information services, was asked to help reduce the number of claims being denied by insurers, he decided to make it easier for nurses to check the accuracy of treatment codes when submitting them to insurers.

His initial plan was to put conventional Ethernet access points at hospital nursing stations. That way, nurses who roamed from station to station could plug notebook PCs into the network, check treatment codes and send changes over the medical group's LAN to insurance companies.

After some research, Bodhuin said he elected to install a wireless system called RoamAbout from Enterasys Inc., a subsidiary of Cabletron Systems Inc. in Rochester, New Hampshire.

Mobile Medical Communications

Data is transferred along a conventional Category 5 Ethernet LAN to a device in the ceiling that includes a network interface card and radio transceiver. The Ethernet cable also powers the access device, so no separate power supply is required. From there, the data is transmitted to a wireless radio card in each notebook's PC Card slot.

Nurses simply turn on their notebooks and log on to the network at speeds of up to 11M-bps.

The wireless network connection also gives nurses access to the hospital's intranet, pharmacy and labs and provides e-mail.

South Jersey Medical System's setup broadcasts data at Ethernet speeds over a distance of about 120 feet, which means nurses can work in close proximity to the access unit, located above nursing stations, or even move away from the station and into patient rooms while maintaining a network connection. And as a nurse takes a notebook PC from one nursing station to another, the radio card in the PC goes into a roaming mode, much as a cellular phone does, locking onto the access site with the strongest signal.

Insurance denial is costly to both the hospital and patient, Bodhuin said.

Although he wouldn't give a specific figure, he said, "We're talking six-figure dollar amounts [in hospital savings], easily."

According to Bodhuin, that's a pretty good return on investment, considering that PC radio cards cost about $200 apiece and each of the 28 wireless access points cost about $750.

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