Virtual assistants appeal to docs

Survey shows uptake of virtual help will grow fast over five years
By Bernie Monegain
10:37 AM

Eighty percent of U.S. doctors who responded to a recent survey indicated they believed virtual assistants would, within five years, drastically change how they interact and use electronic health records and other healthcare apps, making them more efficient and freeing up time to spend on patients.

[Infographic: Will virtual assistants propel the future of medicine?]

Speech recognition company Nuance Communications, which bills itself as the first to bring the virtual assistants directly to consumers through mobile phones and customer service attendants, conducted the survey.

Respondents indicated that mobile virtual assistants could impact healthcare most by helping them access information in EHRs, and navigate through the process using conversational commands. One out of three doctors spends 30 percent or more of the day on administrative duties — activities that could be redirected or removed using voice-enabled virtual assistants, according to survey findings.

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Other key findings:

  • 65 percent say the top role for a virtual assistant: more accurate, timely information to support care or alert them to missing information in records.
  • 73 percent expect 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 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, Palo Alto Medical Foundation. “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.”

[See also: Nuance to acquire Vlingo.]
One area of interest with physicians is intelligent, voice-driven, computerized physician order entry (CPOE) that uses more sophisticated reasoning for ordering medications, labs and radiology exams beyond mere speech, according to Nuance.