Ochsner Health pilots generative AI draft responses to routine patient requests

New Orleans-based health system Ochsner Health is testing generative AI to draft message responses from healthcare workers to patients. 

The pilot is launching this month and will draft simple messages to patients in the MyOchsner app portal. A small group of clinicians will participate in testing a new Epic feature that drafts responses to routine patient requests, which they will then review and edit.

The feature is aimed at speeding up app response time and allowing doctors more time with patients. 

“Ochsner has long been a leader in using digital tools to improve the patient experience,” Ochsner Chief Medical Information Officer Louis Jeansonne, M.D., said in an announcement. “Now we are looking at how technology can simplify workflows for our clinical staff, which should significantly reduce the hours they are spending away from patients.”

Ochsner is among early adopters testing the feature using Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI Service, which integrates with Epic’s EHR. About 100 Ochsner clinicians will participate in the first phase of the pilot. There will be three phases of the pilot through fall 2023. Each phase will collect patient feedback to further enhance the system.

All technology incorporated into clinical workflows is HIPAA-compliant, and messages are securely encrypted for purposes of safeguarding patient privacy, Ochsner said. Before a message can be sent to a patient, the feature’s design ensures a human must always review its accuracy and make changes before signing off on it. Clinicians will only rely on drafts for support.

“The AI will generate a draft for the clinician to review and send. It’s meant to help clinicians respond more quickly to patient messages, so patients can get answers to their questions sooner,” Ochsner Chief Application Officer Amy Trainor said in the announcement. “And it will reduce time our clinicians are spending on computers so that they can spend more time doing what they do best—direct patient care.”

The provider cited a 2017 study that found primary care docs spend more than half of their workday interacting with the EHR during and after clinic hours. Even before COVID-19, EHR use was a key contributor to clinical workload, leading to burnout. This demand was exacerbated by the pandemic. In 2022, more than 4 million medical advice requests were sent to physicians via the MyOchsner app.

Healthcare executives often point to generative AI technologies as a potential boon to their organizations, though relatively few have a defined strategy already in place. Ochsner now joins a handful of other big provider names like Stanford Health Care, UC San Diego Health, UNC Health and UW Health in exploring the novel technology.