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Patients Itching for Wi-Fi

(April 14, 2005) Crutchfield Dermatology, a solo physician practice in Eagan, Minn., is offering patients and visitors free Wi-Fi access throughout its facility. The practice, which doesn't use wireless technology to manage patient data, decided to implement a Wi-Fi network for patients to enhance their experience while at the facility, says Charles E. Crutchfield III, M.D., medical director.

"We're always trying to think outside the box and provide a superb experience for people who come to our office," he says. "This is not just about patients. We have parents or friends who bring patients here. Now they can get work done by accessing our wireless network."

About two months ago, Crutchfield Dermatology enlisted the help of its I.T. services provider, Next Level Café, Savage, Minn., to help create the network. The company installed a TZ170 wireless access point from SonicWALL Inc., Sunnyvale, Calif., at the practice.

The access point can support up to 25 users at a time--plenty for the number patients and visitors the provider expects to access it simultaneously, Crutchfield says. The device also enables wireless coverage throughout the entire facility. The provider paid the I.T. services company about $1,000 for the technology and implementation.

Crutchfield Dermatology began offering wireless access to patients via the access point about six weeks ago. Now patients and visitors can bring in Wi-Fi-enabled notebooks, PDAs and other hardware to the practice to access e-mail or other Web-based applications, Crutchfield says.

Crutchfield Dermatology advertised its free Wi-Fi network to patients via signs in exam rooms and its reception area, in recorded messages while patients were on hold, in its electronic newsletter for patients, and from nurses when patients were making appointments. Though the provider hasn't determined how many visitors have been using the network, Crutchfield says several patients have thanked him for offering wireless access.

"I've seen some people surfing the Internet in our waiting room and others doing work," he says. "If coffee shops can do it, why can't we?"

The provider isn't allowing staff to use the wireless network because it wants to keep it "clear" for patients to use, Crutchfield says.

It also isn't using encryption technology to secure the network because the practice wants to ensure patients and guests can access it easily, says Matt Meinke, senior technician at Next Level Café.

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