Nuance acquires Saykara to build out healthcare AI tools

Nuance Communications has acquired Saykara, a startup that developed a voice-enabled mobile artificial intelligence assistant to automate physician charting.

Saykara's founder and engineering and machine learning experts will join Nuance's research and development team to help boost its capabilities in healthcare AI, the company said.

The acquisition underscores Nuance's "ongoing expansion of market and technical leadership in conversational artificial intelligence (AI) and ambient clinical intelligence (ACI) solutions that reduce clinician burnout, enhance patient experiences, and improve overall health system financial integrity," the company said in a press release.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed in the announcement.

"The complementary technology built by the Saykara team aligns strongly with our technology portfolio and growth strategy as well as the needs of our clients," said Joe Petro, Nuance executive vice president and chief technology officer, in a statement.

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"With a shared vision, we will continue our aggressive focus on innovation, growth, and on delivering industry-leading AI-powered solutions that meaningfully address the compelling business problems that our healthcare clients and their clinicians face every day," Petro said.

Saykara developed an ambient AI assistant to automate clinical documentation for physicians to help reduce burdensome administrative tasks. The solution "listens" to physician-patient conversations then interprets and transforms the salient content required for notes, orders and referrals and enters both structured and unstructured data directly to the electronic health record, the company said.

Saykara was founded in Seattle in 2015 by Harjinder Sandhu, a serial healthcare technology entrepreneur and former Nuance executive with experience in speech recognition and machine learning.

He was a co-founder of healthcare startup MedRemote, which was sold to Nuance in 2005. Sandhu then spent five years at Nuance where he served as vice president and chief technologist of healthcare R&D.

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"I welcome the opportunity to rejoin the market leader in conversational AI and ambient clinical intelligence, and the impressive Nuance research and development team—especially at this important juncture in the development and adoption of these AI-powered healthcare innovations," Sandhu said.

There is a growing market of solutions using AI and voice technology to reduce the burden of time-consuming, manual clinical documentation for doctors. Suki provides a voice-enabled, AI-powered clinical digital assistant to help with tedious documentation tasks.

Amazon announced back in April 2019 that its voice assistant technology Alexa now has medical skills that are HIPAA-compliant. Amazon Web Services also launched Amazon Transcribe Medical to convert clinician and patient speech to text. 

The acquisition builds on Nuance's recent focus on building out healthcare AI tools. The company is collaborating with Microsoft to use ambient technology combined with AI, automation and cloud computing to create an exam room experience where the clinical documentation "writes itself."

RELATED: Amazon Web Services launches Transcribe Medical speech recognition service for clinicians

"We are confident that Saykara's complementary technology will not only benefit our portfolio, but also enhance our multiyear product road map for DAX as we remain committed to solving some of healthcare's largest challenges," said Mark Benjamin, Nuance's CEO, during a call with investor analysts Monday. DAX is Nuance's ambient listening tool.

Nuance also reported Monday its cloud-based healthcare offerings continue to see solid growth with revenue growing 28% year over year in the first quarter of the company's fiscal 2021, which ended Dec. 31. Nuance's Dragon Medical and DAX cloud revenue grew 22% year over year.

The company posted quarterly revenue of $346 million, down from $362 million in the same period last year.