Healthcare network rolls out voice-enabled digital assistant across 1,500 practices

The use of voice-enabled digital assistants in healthcare continues to grow as hospitals and medical practices look to combat physician burnout as a result of increasing administrative workloads.

Add Unified Physician Management to the list of healthcare organizations giving voice technology to their physicians. Unified is rolling out a voice-enabled digital assistant, Suki, that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help doctors with medical charting during patient visits.

The tool is being rolled out across Unified's national network of more than 1,500 women’s health care providers in nine states and the District of Columbia. The goal, Unified executives said, is to use the AI-powered voice tool to enable clinicians to have more time with patients.

“Women’s health care is incredibly personal, and Suki helps providers to concentrate on providing exceptional care by lowering the barrier created by electronic health records (EHRs),” Matt Eakins, M.D., chief operating officer at Unified, said. “Suki not only helps our providers more accurately document the care they deliver but enhances clinician experience and helps us address provider burnout.”

Suki uses a combination of voice commands from physicians and the context in which they practice to create a clinically accurate note that is then sent to the EHR system, according to the company. Suki was founded by Punit Soni, a former executive at Google, Motorola and Flipkart, and Karthik Rajan, who previously led infrastructure at Oracle and Salesforce.

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Sutter Health, a health system based in Sacramento with 24 hospitals, began testing Suki's AI-powered voice assistant tool back in April in three clinical practice areas—primary care, dermatology and orthopedics. The goal is to maximize the time clinicians spend with patients and reduce the time spent documenting in the EHR, Sutter officials said.

A one-year pilot study using Suki across multiple specialties showed up to a 70% reduction in the amount of time physicians spend on medical notes, the company said. The digital health company launched in May 2018, and its AI-powered digital assistant tool now processes more than 1,500 patient interactions every week.

Suki is not the only company in the voice technology space. Amazon announced back in April that its voice assistant technology Alexa now has medical skills that are HIPAA-compliant, paving the way for developers to build voice skills that can securely transmit private patient health information.

Currently, there are six healthcare companies building Alexa healthcare voice tools to enable patients to check prescriptions and schedule doctor visits using voice technology—Cigna, Boston Children's Hospital, Express Scripts, Providence St. Joseph Health, Atrium Health and digital health company Livongo.

At Unified, the company plans to roll out the tool to its OB-GYN practices beginning this month. Physicians at Unified medical affiliates need less than 30 minutes of training with Suki, allowing it to be deployed and productive on day one.

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Currently, Suki is being used by physicians in seven specialties across eight states. The specialties are rheumatology, pulmonology, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, orthopedics, pediatrics and plastic surgery. 

Over time with use, Suki can distill a doctor’s conversation with a patient into an actionable plan based on the doctor’s known preferences and clinical practice guidelines. For example, a doctor can tell Suki, “I performed a well woman exam” for a patient, and Suki knows how to create relevant content for the note. The resulting note is tuned not only to the doctor’s medical specialty but also to their vocabulary and style, according to the company.

The digital assistance streamlines documentation inside patient EHRs and improves data access, which helps physicians create appropriate care plans. With their time freed from administrative tasks, physicians can spend more one-on-one time with patients.