Doctors are overwhelmed by clerical work. Healthcare-savvy voice assistants are picking up the slack.

The problem: Doctors generate lots of vital information while examining a patient. Properly recorded, it becomes data that informs treatment — but entering it properly is a time-consuming task that drains docs’ attention and finances.

The solution: Voice assistants can serve as clinical stenographers. Suki is one of several apps on the market that transcribe doctors’ observations and instructions and insert them into a patient’s electronic health record.

How it works: Saying “Suki, the patient is running a fever and has fluid in their lungs,” inserts a note in the patient’s record. “Suki, show me the patient’s prescriptions,” retrieves that information. “Suki, I examined the patient,” enters the full description of a normal exam, ready for customization to the particular case. The model also adds diagnostic codes for tests and procedures, which aid in billing.

  • Suki uses off-the-shelf voice recognition from Google and other vendors, augmented by the company’s own deep learning models. These models were trained on public datasets of speech plus a proprietary corpus of 250,000 anonymized patient-doctor interactions to capture the nuances of medical jargon. The engineers added background noises and conversation to make the models more robust.
  • The engineers built several natural language task models that incorporate custom word embeddings, text classification, and entity recognition. These were trained on a combination of anonymized proprietary patient notes and public repositories of medical and clinical text. They retrain these models periodically using updated data.
  • The company cites internal research showing that doctors who use Suki spend 70 percent less time doing clerical work. The system complies with U.S. regulations that protect sensitive personal information.

Status: Suki, which integrates with several popular electronic health records, is deployed in the health network Ascension, Unified Women’s Health Care, and more than 90 small-to-midsize practices. As of July, the software operated in seven specialties including internal medicine, OB-GYN, and pediatrics. The company is working on new features for smarter billing ordering items like prescriptions and tests.

Behind the news: Suki has plenty of competition. Rivals include Saykara, Nuance, M*Modal, and Notable.

Why it matters: Doctors are drowning in paperwork, and voice-assistant technology can help them come up for air. A 2016 study estimates that doctors spend between 37 and 49 percent of their working hours on clerical tasks. All that paperwork contributes to the high level of burnout and depression in the profession, according to a 2019 study.

We’re thinking: If you notice an improvement in your physician’s bedside manner, you might want to thank a robot.

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