OrthoAtlanta, a 14-office group practice with 37 physicians, is one of the largest physician-owned orthopedic and sports medicine practices in the greater Atlanta area. It provides an integrated approach to delivering musculoskeletal care for muscles, bones, joints and spine. Its physicians treat patients at 14 offices, and many see patients at more than one location.
Industrywide, it’s been reported that the sheer volume of documentation, much of it routine paperwork necessary for each patient encounter, is identified as a cause of physician burnout.
“By some industry estimates, one hour of seeing patients translates into two or more hours of post-visit paperwork,” said Dr. Michael J. Behr, medical director at OrthoAtlanta. “There are multiple ways to dictate patient encounters, and within our practice we have tried many of these products. That’s why when solutions such as Suki, that promise the benefit of artificial intelligence for efficient and ever-smarter note taking, become available, it is worth exploring.”
OrthoAtlanta is an orthopedic practice open to exploring and testing new technologies that benefit the patient experience and physician efficiency, he added. These efforts are aimed at providing an optimal patient experience, he said.
Suki is an AI-powered, voice-enabled digital assistant for doctors that is designed to ease the burden of documentation, enabling doctors to focus on treating patients. It understands voice commands and uses them to create clinically accurate notes that are then input into the electronic health record system.
“Input by the clinicians is still required to complete notes, but it is easier and more accurate than most traditional medical dictation and transcription services,” Behr said. “This ultimately results in significant documentation time savings.”
The technology leverages artificial intelligence so each note completed by a clinician is teaching the technology specific nuances about that clinician, and all clinicians, so that eventually it will become a digital scribe capable of completing a note with minimal input, he explained.
“The company is attempting to create a true digital assistant like smart speakers, such as Alexa, that is more responsive and interactive with physicians than other products have been capable of in the past,” he said.
There is a variety of speech recognition systems available on the market today. But the functionality and capabilities of any given system can vary greatly. Some vendors of speech recognition technology include Deepgram, Dragon Medical Practice Edition, Nuance, SayKara and Sopris Health.
MEETING THE CHALLENGE
OrthoAtlanta is a practice interested in embracing new technologies that can ease the burden on physicians. As such, many OrthoAtlanta physicians readily welcomed the opportunity to be part of a pilot program for the new AI-powered digital assistant.
“Integration with our EHR is essential,” Behr said. “OrthoAtlanta uses athenahealth as its EHR, and Suki is an athenahealth partner. We have found the current iteration of the product to be very accurate and incorporating well into our EHR.”
The Suki team, he added, follows an aggressive roadmap for implementing new features. For example, it recently added a mobile application and has plans to add X-ray and imaging integration. In addition, the company has demonstrated a very quick response time to any suggestions OrthoAtlanta physicians have offered, Behr said.
“The company is attempting to create a true digital assistant like smart speakers, such as Alexa, that is more responsive and interactive with physicians than other products have been capable of in the past.”
Dr. Michael J. Behr, OrthoAtlanta
“One of our orthopedic surgeons, Dr. Sharrona Williams, a specialist in foot and ankle surgery, is one of the early adopters of the Suki system and uses it in her patient practice,” he noted. “Dr. Williams sees patients in three OrthoAtlanta offices, including Fayetteville, Newnan and Peachtree City, Georgia. Dr. Williams finds the Suki system very easy to use. She reports that it saves time in documenting patient encounters.”
Depending on the patient, Dr. Williams either will enter patient documentation after the visit or she may use Suki to document the patient during the actual examination. This can be particularly helpful during an initial examination when extensive patient history is gathered, Behr stated. As patients, too, are becoming ever more familiar with using technology for managing their healthcare, Dr. Williams finds some patients quite receptive to her use of the voice technology.
“Dr. Williams will encourage the patient to listen carefully to the notes she is inputting into Suki,” Behr explained. “She encourages the patient to interject comments if more information can be added or clarified as part of the note being created.”
OrthoAtlanta physicians cite speed and accuracy of note taking as tangible benefits. Reducing physician burnout is cited as an advantage; advantages such as this are invaluable, Behr said.
A recent launch of the Suki mobile app has added to clinician satisfaction with the product by early adopters, and is growing the number of OrthoAtlanta physicians now using the product.
“Since deploying Suki, our physicians have created more than 17,000 notes,” he said. “In a time and motion study conducted on the physician participants prior to Suki, the average note completion time was 4.8 minutes across our physicians, ranging from of 3.9 to 6.0 minutes per note.
“After adopting Suki,” he added, “our physicians averaged 1.6 minutes per note, with much less variance at 1.4 to 1.6 minutes per note completed. Results such as this suggest an average savings of up to 1 hour per physician per clinic day by using the technology.”
The major downstream impact of the technology currently is a completed medical record. As the product matures and more AI functionality is available, physicians will appreciate even more efficiencies, Behr predicted.
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
“As with all new technology, seamless integration with the physician practice electronic health record system is essential,” Behr advised. “Vendor support, and sensitivity to the physician practice needs, is another key to success.
Throughout the pilot program and continuing today, OrthoAtlanta physicians observe Suki working collaboratively to identify, develop, prioritize and launch additional features and system enhancements.
“When a provider can turn their focus to the patient in front of them, providing more patient engagement and interaction time, that’s a huge win,” said Behr.