Sutter Joins Growing List Of Orgs Piloting Voice-Based Services For Healthcare Use

In what appears to be part of a growing trend, another health system is kicking off an experiment using voice-assistant tools.

In this case, the Sutter Health system announced plans to pilot test an AI-powered voice-enabled digital assistant with its doctors in Northern California.  It’s conducting the pilot using tools from Suki, a vendor which offers tools designed to allow physicians to dictate notes and push them directly into their EHR.

Sutter plans to test Suki technology in primary care, dermatology and orthopedics practices.  If Suki delivers as promised, it will gradually learn from doctors’ conversations with patients and over time,  become capable of creating an action plan based on the doctor’s known preferences and relevant clinical practice guidelines.

Doctors will also be able to direct Suki to populate the record with information based on their dictation history.  For example, according to the announcement, a physician will be able to tell Suki “I did my typical diabetes counseling” and the software will create relevant content tuned not only to the doctor’s specialty but also their vocabulary and style, the vendor said.

Sutter’s news follows a similar announcement by Vanderbilt University Medical Center,  where researchers are in the process of creating voice-controlled virtual assistant software which will allow team members to interact with and query the health system’s Epic EHR.

The Vanderbilt assistant is designed to allow doctors to ask standard clinical questions and retrieve data from Epic. For example, a doctor may ask the assistant what the last sodium level was for a particular patient. The assistant transcribes and displays the query, retrieves the clinical test value, that indicates whether the result is normal and where it falls in the range of possible sodium results.

Other emerging projects integrating voice assistants focus on consumers. One recent example comes from Cedars-Sinai,  where they’re testing an Alexa-powered platform letting patients interact hands-free with nurses and manage entertainment options.

Arguably the biggest news in this space, though, comes from Amazon, which just announced that it was rolling out a small handful of HIPAA-compliant services for the Alexa platform. Amazon now allows consumers to locate urgent care centers and book same-day appointments within two health systems, support parents and caregivers for children recovering from surgery, manage wellness goals and track the status of home delivery prescriptions.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, to me the logical next step for all of this is for healthcare organizations to start building custom voice portals integrating the internal services doctors and patients need. Until then, I’d encourage any and all to begin experimenting with voice-assisted options, as there’s clearly a lot to learn here.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.