Epic, Nuance team up on voice assistance technology to help lighten doctor documentation burden

Doctor computer keyboard
Voice-driven virtual assistants let people listen to music and search the internet. Are they the answer for doctors who struggle with EHRs? (Getty/jacoblund)

Two major companies, Epic and Nuance Communications, have teamed up, hoping voice assistance technology in electronic health records is an answer to reducing the documentation burden for doctors.

Nuance, a voice artificial intelligence company, says its technology will be integrated with EHR giant Epic’s apps, according to a company announcement.

The new capabilities will enable physicians to retrieve schedules,  patient information, laboratory results, medication lists and visit summaries by voice command. The technology will work with both Epic’s Rover and Haiku workflow app, Nuance said. More than 100 healthcare organizations already access Nuance’s Dragon Medical through Haiku.

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The two companies are working with Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) on implementing the technology. 

The medical center, a joint client of both companies, is using Nuance’s Dragon Medical virtual assistant technology integrated into its Epic EHR, making it easier for physicians to retrieve information from the EHR, as well as enter data, manage tasks, use computerized physician order entry and communicate with other providers.

“We have worked closely with Nuance and Epic and have found that using Nuance’s voice assistant with Epic not only helps us empower our physicians through voice, but enables us to leverage virtual assistants to assist with tasks while supporting HIPAA-compliance,” said Yaa Kumah-Crystal, M.D., assistant professor of biomedical informatics and pediatric endocrinology at VUMC, in the announcement. “One of our physicians described the platform like a helpful intern always ready with an answer.”

The new system from Nuance and Epic was developed to help doctors more easily manage clinical documentation, a major complaint of physicians that has been blamed for doctor burnout. A 2017 study by the American Medical Association found that primary care physicians spend more than half of their workday interacting with the EHR. Another study found that doctors are splitting their time pretty evenly between face-to-face visits with patients and time on the computer.

It’s not the first time that healthcare organizations have looked at speech technology as a way to cut the documentation burden and increase patient care. Hospitals across the country have been interested in using Amazon’s voice recognition software to improve clinical care, but privacy laws and limited engagement are holding back widespread adoption.