Real talk: Suki makes noise with voice assistant for doctors

Physicians use the software the way consumers use voice assistants in their homes. The California-based startup is banking on its AI-powered software to appeal to doctors and health systems battling burnout.

Physicians use the software the way consumers use voice assistants in their homes. The California-based startup is banking on its AI-powered software to appeal to doctors and health systems battling burnout.

At a time when health systems are worried about staff burnout, Suki sees an opportunity for growth and a way to reduce the burden on doctors.

Suki, a healthcare technology company, has developed voice recognition software powered by artificial intelligence. Doctors can use Suki to handle any number of tasks.

“Think of Suki like a voice assistant for physicians, like a Siri or an Alexa for physicians,” Jennivine Lee Simon, Suki’s vice president of marketing, told Chief Healthcare Executive.

“Just like you would talk to Siri to check the weather or turn on your lights, physicians can talk to Suki and Suki will help them with their clerical tasks, like their notes and finding information out of the E.H.R. (electronic health record). They just speak very naturally, Suki does the task for them, and they can focus on taking care of their patients.”

A physician can talk into a smartphone or computer and doctors can dictate notes, pull up schedules and review chart data.

Simon talked with Chief Healthcare Executive about Suki’s potential in an interview at the American Hospital Association Leadership Summit in San Diego. (The story continues after the video.)

“We’re trying to make the workflows more streamlined,” Simon said.

“Our vision for Suki is to be a full-fledged digital assistant,” she said.

Suki is in health systems across the country, with its software being used in over 130 sites.

“The feedback we get from physicians is powerful,” Simon said. “We’re able to save them time and they can spend more time with patients, and more time with their families.”

The startup, based in Redwood City, California, earned a spot on Fast Company’s list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies in 2020.

“We have tremendous potential to help doctors do their jobs better,” Simon said.

“We want to take all of the administrative responsibilities that doctors have on their plates, and just make that a much more streamlined process,” Simon said. “Help them do their clinical notes faster, help them do their diagnosis coding faster, so that they can spend their time on what they’re trained to do, which is on clinical care and taking care of their patients.”

To be sure, the administrative hassles of medicine take a toll on doctors. A Medscape survey of doctors in January found that bureaucratic tasks, such as charting and documentation, emerged as the top factor contributing to physician burnout.

Suki has partnered in studies with the American Academy of Family Physicians to show how the voice documentation software can reduce headaches for doctor. A study released in December 2021 found that doctors saw their median documentation time reduced by 72% per note. Clinicians who participated in the study saved 3.3 hours per week and reported more satisfaction with their workload.

Steven Waldren, AAFP’s vice president and chief medical informatics officer, said in a December 2021 statement that the study showed “an AI Assistant for Documentation significantly reduced documentation time and burden while providing more flexibility and freedom.

“Clinicians reported their notes were more meaningful and professional,” Waldren said. “Our conclusion is that an AI Assistant for Documentation is an essential innovation for all family physicians who have documentation burden and experience burnout. It can help optimize their family medicine experience.”

An earlier pilot study with the AAFP in 2020 found 100% of doctors who used Suki found they were saving some time, including a 70% reduction in after-hours charting.

Suki is designed to be very simple to use. It integrates with electronic health records from Epic, Cerner, and athenahealth, Simon said.

“So you use Suki to create your note, and then when you’re done, we push the note content back into the relevant places within the E.H.R.,” Simon said. It’s really aimed to help physicians save clicks, save mental energy of finding the relevant places in the E.H.R., and they just use Suki to do what they need to do and then the information flows back.”

In addition to its digital assistant for physicians, Suki also offers a proprietary voice platform, Suki Speech Platform, to health systems looking to develop their own voice experience.

Suki employs about 120 people and is competing with big tech companies for top talent. The company’s team includes members who have worked at Apple, Google and IBM Watson.

“Engineering talent is something we’re always looking for,” Simon said.

“We have a very strong culture. We’re a very mission driven company. We’re looking for people that are passionate about the problem we’re trying to solve.”

Suki has tapped doctors in different specialties to offer feedback on different features the company is developing.

“One of our values in the company is every pixel is in service of the doctor,” Simon said. “How can we make it as intuitive as possible?”

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