Dozens of startups are looking for ways to lighten physicians’ documentation workload, either by making health record systems more user-friendly, or by automating portions of the process. One company, Redwood City-based Suki, is taking the approach of building a voice assistant for physicians.
The startup recently closed a $55 million series C round led by March Capital. Philips Ventures also joined as an investor.
Suki’s voice assistant works somewhat similar to Amazon’s Alexa, in that clinicians can use a wake word, “Suki,” to instruct the assistant to perform tasks. For instance, they could ask Suki to pull up their schedule or information from a patient’s record. Clinicians can also dictate notes for a patient, and the assistant helps with ICD-10 coding.
Suki claims its tool works across multiple specialties, including family medicine, cardiology, orthopedics, plastic surgery, ophthalmology and pediatrics. It’s used by more than 90 health systems and clinics, the company said.
Wes Nichols, a partner at March Capital, said Suki caught his interest after he saw his physician use it.
“My first exposure to Suki was observing my doctor using his phone to update his EHR and pharmacy, which compelled me to ask him about what he was using. He was thrilled with Suki as a user, and I knew I had to meet the founder,” he said in a news release.
Suki plans to use the funds to expand its user base by working with more health systems and medical groups, and by adding new capabilities to its voice assistant.
The startup faces some big competitors, notably Nuance, the voice documentation company acquired by Microsoft earlier this year for $19.7 billion. Nuance had also acquired Saykara, a startup that was working on tools that could document clinical information by “listening” into conversations between doctors and patients.
Amazon has also made inroads in using its Alexa devices for healthcare, though so far, it has focused more on tools for consumers and patients rather than on records. For instance, it is working with hospitals and assisted living facilities to let patients request assistance, provide a way for staff to check in on patients remotely, and is also working on a tool to provide information about commonly prescribed drugs.
In an emailed statement, Suki CEO Punit Soni said the company differentiates its services from the rest by cost, and by not relying on humans on the back-end. One of the dirty little secrets of voice assistants is that they often rely on people behind the scenes to check for errors.
“Suki is technology driven which means tasks are done in real time, with consistent quality. Suki is also more affordable, since there aren’t backend labor costs. That means we can service specialties such as family medicine, which may not be able to afford scribe-based solutions,” he wrote in an emailed statement.
It also does more than documentation by helping physicians with coding and retrieving information from the EHR.
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