The Transformative Power of Conversational Technologies — Part 3

There’s no shortage of startups with creative ways to use the technology to improve patient care and make clinicians’ lives less burdensome, and that includes digital assistants.

By John Halamka, M.D., president, Mayo Clinic Platform, and Paul Cerrato, senior research analyst and communications specialist, Mayo Clinic Platform.

Conversational technology has captured the public’s attention, and is slowly making its way into clinicians’ workspaces, as well. By one estimate, Alexa has been installed on 100 million devices as of 2020; Siri is used by about half a billion people. In total, roughly 63% of US adults use some sort of voice-operated digital assistant. Although reliable statistics on the number of clinicians who use such assistants are difficult to find, our last two articles in this series suggest there is growing interest in the specialized conversational tools needed to meet their needs—and the needs of their patients.

In Part 2, we discussed some of the larger companies in the space, including Nuance and M*Modal, but there are several newer entries in this specialty worth a closer look. SOAP Health, for instance, who recently graduated from Mayo Clinic Platform_Accelerate, has been designed to address a serious shortcoming in the health care ecosystem: the fact that clinicians rarely have the time to conduct a really in-depth interview and review medical history with each patient. SOAP Health’s interactive, online medical assistant enables patients to provide a detailed medical history in the comfort of their home. The vendor claims that its digital assistant documents up to 90% of a clinical encounter. It integrates its SOAP (Subjective, Objective, Assessment, Plan) notes into most EHR systems. It also states that its “AI-support reduces liability exposure and helps meet all regulatory requirements, e.g. HIPAA.”

Abridge can also provide automated SOAP notes, enabling practitioners to obtain clinically useful and billable documentation. It also provides patients with summaries of their visits, gleaned from the previous in-person conversation. Taking things to the next level, Abridge has the technology to customize data structure and output so that organizations can generate analytics. The company claims its system is more effective than dictation tools because “Abridge captures the conversation as it happens, so clinicians spend more time with patients, rather than spending additional time dictating the details after the conversation.” The system is HIPAA compliant, uses secure cloud services, and protects all its data in transit and at rest with 256-bit encryption.

Fold Health, another relatively new company in this space, is taking a platform approach, which its co-founder and president Ram Sahasranam likens to Lego Building Blocks. Among those building blocks are tools to address analytics, payments, referrals, sales, scheduling, marketing automation, branded apps, membership management, messaging, a cloud phone, and employer reporting. This interoperable digital health tech stack, which is aimed at primary care providers, offers “a comprehensive operating system that can be laid on top of existing EHRs or platforms. The stack is also customizable. Then that data is used to build a holistic picture of the patient. It also enables communication with providers, so if a patient is hospitalized or injured, that information gets sent to their care manager. It’s what the company sees as ‘contextual intelligence.’”

We believe large language models, novel conversational interfaces, and new productivity tools that layer on top of EHRs will reduce the burden on provider organizations, while simultaneously bringing convenience to patients and individual clinicians.

*Mention of commercial products in this blog does not imply endorsement by the authors or Mayo Clinic.

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