Docs vie to expand virtual assistants use

Nearly four out of five doctors spend more than an hour a day on administrative tasks, according to industry estimates – and for a third of these doctors, as much as 30 percent of their day is occupied by non-direct care duties. Against this backdrop, 80 percent of U.S physicians surveyed believe virtual assistants will help them streamline processes and procedures in the next five years, reported researchers from Nuance Healthcare.

What are virtual assistants? Intelligent, voice driven systems – akin to Siri on the iPhone – that have the ability to access information in response to voice commands. Healthcare applications would include pulling information from EHRs and navigating the clinical documentation process. Advanced capabilities would use more sophisticated reasoning for ordering medications, labs and radiology exams.

Nuance reported that its survey of 10,000 physicians indicates a drastic change in how doctors interact with EHRs and other healthcare apps. The technology is expected to make physicians more efficient and free them up to spend more time with patients.

Among the survey findings:

  • 65 percent of respondents said the top role for a virtual assistant: would be to provide more accurate, timely information to support care or alert them to missing information in records.
  • 73 percent expect that virtual assistants could improve healthcare and patient engagement by helping to coordinate care between multiple caregivers.
  • 80 percent believe virtual assistants will benefit patients most by engaging them in the care process, prompting them to adhere to health advice and modifying behaviors.

“Mobile virtual assistants have the potential to reinvent the way we deliver patient care,” said Alireza Shafaie, MD, an internal medicine physician who practices at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Redwood City, Calif., in a release accompanying the survey results. “As a consumer, I already experience the value of mobile assistants, and would love to bring that natural, intelligence-based dialogue to my work as a primary care physician. For every one patient I see I have to communicate my recommendations in three different places. A mobile advisor that could do that on my behalf in one shot would give me back more time in what truly matters – time with my patients.”

Nuance said healthcare developers can embed virtual assistants directly into any clinical app to enhance a variety of new and existing workflows, including CPOE. The technology can conduct meaningful conversations, interpret physician requests, ask for clarification and manage changes in courses of action.

“The technology exists today in Nuance to create a more intuitive way for doctors and patients to coordinate care and improve efficiency through dialogue-driven intelligent systems that hear, understand and respond,” said Joe Petro, senior vice president healthcare engineering and R&D at Nuance, in a prepared statement.

Click here to view a video of virtual assistant technology in action.