Artificial Intelligence, Health IT

Sutter Health partners with voice-enabled AI startup to reduce clinician administrative burden

Suki’s pilot program with Sutter will introduce the Redwood City-based company’s technology across three specialties: primary care, dermatology and orthopedics.

Sacramento, California-based health system Sutter Health is turning to Silicon Valley digital assistant startup Suki as a way to ease the documentation and administration burden for physicians.

The pilot program with Sutter will introduce the Redwood City-based company’s technology across three specialties: primary care, dermatology and orthopedics.

Suki’s technology – which is accessible through a mobile app or a web portal – uses voice commands from physicians to create written clinical notes or orders which are then recorded onto the EHR.

The company uses a combination of human trainers – alongside machine learning – to improve the efficiency of their system and help it adapt to new use cases. Suki mainly sells its product using a SaaS business model, with additional costs for implementation or volume-based pricing for larger enterprises.

Instead of just functioning as a documentation or dictation tool, Suki CEO Punit Soni said the hope is for the system to evolve to act as a true clinical support assistant for doctors.

“As we get a larger and larger universe of doctors and we keep tagging specific language, that accuracy will continue to go up,” Soni said. “We’re trying to move from a proactive to an ambient model based on the data we receive.”

The 43-person company has around 60 customers, mostly made up of independent practices which struggle under the strain of regulatory and administrative requirements. Based on research around this early customer base, Suki says it is able to reduce the time physicians spend on clinical notes by 50 to 70 percent.

Suki was founded in 2017 and has raised a total of $20 million, which includes a $15 million Series A round led by Venrock. First Round, Social Capital, Marc Benioff and Flatiron Health’s Nat Turner have also contributed to the company’s funding.

The startup’s system currently works across seven specialties and integrates with athenahealth, eclinicalWorks and Epic. While the Sutter partnership represents Suki’s first large health system customer, Soni said the company has two other similar deals in the pipeline.

Sachin Gupta, a pulmonologist at a Sutter Health hospital in San Francisco, identified administration and documentation as a major source of physician burnout, pointing to its damaging effects on the patient-provider relationship.

While he stressed the importance of accurate high-quality medical documentation, Gupta said he sees the benefit of a point-of-care system that can assist a doctor in that process.

“Going through and doing your charts after a visit is a super inefficient and inconvenient process and leads to medical errors in documentation and in medical orders,” Gupta said. “I’m excited for the advent of better voice recognition that can work in real-time and is backed by AI to help it with specific syntax and phrasing.”

Still, he underscored the necessity of clinician’s ability to pick up on subtle patient cues for charting, which may be lost in translation for a machine.

Physician burnout has been identified as an increasingly growing issue as clinicians are buried under the weight of reporting and documentation requirements.

According to a 2019 survey by MedScape, 44 percent of physicians reported feeling burned out. That number doesn’t include the 15 percent who consider themselves colloquially or clinically depressed.

The number one reported contributor to burnout was the volume of bureaucratic tasks like charting and paperwork.

Perhaps in a testament to the size of the problem (comments by Epic Systems CEO Judy Faulkner notwithstanding), Suki is far from the only company operating in the space.

Fellow startups also looking to reduce EHR documentation and administrative burden include Notable Health, Robin Healthcare and Aiva Health.

Where Suki stands apart, according to Soni, is in its ease of use, as well as its independence from a specific hardware device and remote medical scribe workforce.

Of course, the big question is whether tech giants like Amazon or Google will enter the space as they continue to branch out the applications of their voice-enabled technology. But Soni said he sees those companies mainly focusing on the technical infrastructure that enables businesses like Suki.

“I think of them building a platform like Android, while I’m building an app,” Soni said.

Moving forward, Soni has grand ambitions to make Suki the “largest, more relevant product in this space” with 1,000 customers by the end of 2019.

We’ll check in with the company in the future to see if he makes good on that promise.

Photo: iLexx, Getty Images