Epic’s Decision To Put Its Voice Assistant Front and Center Could Have A Big Impact

As some of you may know, voice assistant technology is becoming one of the hottest new applications to hit the healthcare IT world. To be sure, many institutions are still trialing the use of voice assistants in clinical settings, but this also points up that we’re still in the early phase of adoption.

Now, however, Epic has made a move that may almost singlehandedly bring such technologies into the mainstream. Working closely with Nuance, which has not surprisingly made a number of moves in this direction, Epic is now putting Hey Epic! voice assistant technology in it’s desktop EHR and not just its mobile apps.

Epic had planned to hype its new VA at HIMSS20, which was of course superseded by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. However, it seems to have bounced back with a bigger bet on this technology.

To be sure, Epic’s partnership with Nuance isn’t new. The EHR giant first announced the integration of Nuance’s virtual assistant functionality with the Epic EHR in 2018. Epic integrated this virtual assistant technology into its Haiku and Rover mobile apps. However, this time the announcement seems like more than just the usual corporate chest-thumping.

At least a few health systems have also been playing with voice assistant technologies for a while. For example, researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center have been developing voice-controlled virtual assistant software for a while now.

Other providers sticking their toe into these waters include Northwell Health, which has struck a deal with Allscripts to collaboratively design, test and release an AI-based, voice-enabled EHR.

Yet another health system exploring the uses of this technology is Sutter Health, which is pilot-testing an AI-powered voice-enabled digital assistant with its doctors in Northern California.

Still, Epic’s announcement that the company now plans to push the Hey Epic voice assistant out to the EHR’s desktop user interface, which is what most users use, is a pretty big deal.

Using the tool, clinicians will be able to conversationally navigate the Epic EHR and search for information such as lab results, patient records and visit summaries. They’ll also be able to place orders and switch from voice and assistant and dictation hands-free.

One thing that’s not clear is how much this feature will cost.  Seems like users will have to purchase this feature as opposed to it being bundled in with the Epic software.  Granted, this may be bundled with voice recognition from Nuance which many organizations already have purchased.  If you’re familiar with how Epic and Nuance are pricing this, let us know in the comments or on our contact us page and we’ll update the story.

Epic’s decision to situate Hey Epic on a page every user visits may mark a turning point for voice assistant use in healthcare. Given its market share, any technology Epic embraces immediately becomes almost an industry standard. Most likely, the use of voice assistants in healthcare will see a sharp uptick in response.

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.