Speech-enabled EHRs poised for growth as physician adoption expands

EHR data sharing
Integrating speech-recognition technology with EHRs offers potential for streamlining workflows and saving physicians time. (Getty/andrei_r)

The majority of doctors now use speech-recognition software to interact with EHR systems, according to a new report.

But as accuracy and integration improve, some signs suggest the market may still have substantial room to grow.

While sexier technologies like telemedicine and artificial intelligence grab most of the attention for their potential to disrupt the healthcare space, speech-recognition technology has steadily gained traction without much fanfare. Survey results included in a report from Reaction Data show 62% of participants from a variety of physician specialties using speech recognition with their current EHR solution. Another 15% reported they were either in the process of implementing the technology or planning to implement it within the next two years.

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It’s no surprise that doctors have gravitated toward speech-recognition technology to streamline their workflow, according to Jeremy Bikman, CEO of Reaction Data.

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“If we’ve learned anything from all of the physician burnout and obstacles-to-care research we’ve done recently, it’s that physicians are looking for ways to spend more time interacting directly with their patients and less time staring at their laptop screens interacting with their EHRs,” he told FierceHealthcare. “Speech recognition is certainly one of those solutions that can help this come to pass and is why we are seeing increased adoption of speech recognition solutions integrated to various EHRs.”

Integration with leading EHR vendors appears to have been a focus for the major players in the speech-recognition space. Respondents reported that Nuance, still the overwhelming market leader, operates relatively seamlessly with EHR heavyweights Cerner and Epic, with reviews slightly more mixed for Meditech and Allscripts.

Just last week, Epic partnered with Nuance to integrate more voice-recognition capabilities into its EHR.

While only 12% of respondents reported using M*Modal, those that did were highly enthusiastic about their choice, producing higher satisfaction scores for the solution.

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

The white space in the market presents an interesting challenge, according to the report. Among the nearly one in four respondents who indicated they have no plans to adopt the technology, cost and accuracy were the primary concerns. The report also notes that accuracy and ease of use appeared to be the primary drivers of both satisfaction and dissatisfaction with vendor performance.

A sample of comments from respondents suggests a mix of physician expectations, patience and typing speed affect their impressions. Where one chief medical officer describes a solution’s “reliable speech recognition functionality,” another proclaims the same technology is better than its competition, “but still not great.”

The report concludes that the keys to future adoption likely lie in two areas. First, as new technologies such as natural language processing evolve, improved accuracy could mitigate some of the concerns among holdouts.

Second, attitudes toward speech recognition could change markedly as older, more technology-resistant doctors retire and the millennial generation becomes a larger part of the workforce. As a new generation becomes increasingly used to interacting vocally with smartphones and personal digital assistants, resistance to the technology’s use in professional settings may diminish over time.

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