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Ochsner Health testing use of AI in sending messages to patients


About 100 clinicians are engaged in a pilot program aimed at improving response time for patients, and saving some time for doctors.

Ochsner Health says it is trying to use artificial intelligence to get answers to patients faster.

Ochsner Health is testing the use of AI-generated messages to quickly answer questions from patients. (Photo: Ochsner Health)

Ochsner Health is testing the use of AI-generated messages to quickly answer questions from patients. (Photo: Ochsner Health)

The Louisiana-based system also hopes it saves some time for doctors.

Ochsner says it is testing a program to use generative AI to produce responses for patients. More than 100 Ochnser clinicians across the 46-hospital system are engaged in the pilot program, the system says.

The health system is testing a new feature from Epic that generates answers to typical questions from patients. Clinicians review the responses before they are sent to the patients through the MyOchsner app portal.

Epic’s new feature utilizes Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI Service. Earlier this year, Epic and Microsoft announced that they were expanding their partnership to mesh Microsoft’s AI capabilities with Epic’s electronic health records.

Ochsner stresses that AI is not replacing the guidance and expertise of doctors. The feature requires clinicians to review the draft message before it is sent to patients.

The system says the messages are securely encrypted and the technology is compliant with HIPPA, the federal law aimed at protecting patient privacy.

“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,” Amy Trainor, Ochnser Health’s chief application officer, said in a statement.

“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.”

Patients are interacting with their healthcare providers more regularly through apps, which offers them the chance to get answers to common questions.

But doctors are also spending more of their time, including their off hours, in answering those messages.

Doctors have decried the increasing amount of their time they spend dealing with their electronic health record systems, and physicians say they would prefer to spend more time on direct patient care. Many doctors cite their heavy documentation and bureaucratic tasks as the top factor contributing to burnout.

“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,” Louis Jeansonne, Ochsner’s chief medical information officer, said in a statement.

Ochsner says the AI message program will be tested throughout the fall, and the system will be gathering feedback from patients.

Hospitals and health systems continue to explore new ways to reduce administrative headaches for physicians, with studies showing physician burnout at record levels.

Increasingly, doctors and healthcare leaders are urging tech companies to devise new solutions with clinicians in mind.

A September 2017 study of primary care physicians found that doctors were spending nearly 6 hours of an 11.4-hour day in their electronic health record systems. The findings were published in The Annals of Family Medicine.

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