How voice-enabled technologies can improve patient experiences
Voice-enabled technologies that support healthcare are not new. Physicians have relied on dictation for decades to help make documentation and report creation more efficient. But technologies have evolved many times over since these earliest applications. Today, healthcare teams can use the power of their voice for far, far more than simply dictating and transcribing patient documentation.
Advances in data processing, cloud computing, and machine learning mean voice-enabled technologies like virtual assistants are pervasive, letting us command and control the world around us in powerful ways. In healthcare specifically, care teams can now rely on virtual assistants to navigate the electronic health record; order imaging, prescriptions, and follow-ups; and query patient records to retrieve important information.
At the same time, ambient voice-enabled technologies are now here and ready to structure patient documentation simply by “listening” to doctor-patient interactions and accurately diarizing the conversation into clinical notes directly within the EHR. It is an exciting transition and one that eliminates some of the friction providers may otherwise experience when working through documentation workflows.
The heart of all of this, of course, is the patient. Patients remain front and center for all we do. For example, if the physician – working with a virtual assistant – can easily call out orders, such as refilling a prescription, while maintaining contact with the patient, everyone remains connected and in the moment.
Think of it this way: when patients can hear their doctor placing these orders and making these requests, patients can be more engaged in their care. As they are building the clinical note, there may be some areas the provider finds more important and calls out more specifically within the note. Patients might feel compelled to ask more and better questions about their conditions and care to become part of the healing process in a more hands-on way. And, they will have a better, deeper understanding of their healthcare overall, which is a value that is hard to measure. Patients may not realize they have been craving more transparency in their care, but once they have it, we believe the effects on trust, quality of care, and outcomes will be tremendously positive.
Under more traditional circumstances, however, the provider would have to pull away from the patient, turn their back, and engage with a computer to follow through on the clinical encounter. This is a real issue. One study emphasized the importance of maintaining eye contact between patients and providers; in fact, “patients perceived eye contact as an indication that providers cared about them.” But when providers turn around to type into the EHR, patients feel ignored. Making matters worse here is the fact that engaging with patients is one of the joys of being a doctor and practicing medicine. Doctors want to have those conversations, to learn patients’ stories, and to give the advice that ultimately leads to healthier, happier, longer lives.
It is all part of a human, personal connection that is so important—something that the COVID-19 pandemic has made even more clear than ever before. The pandemic has accelerated and expanded efforts to overcome the technology and administrative burdens that create physical and emotional barriers between patients and physicians. It is one more area where voice-enabled technologies can help. As more providers rely on technologies, such as ambient intelligence, that break down the barriers to human connection, we will begin to see greater patient engagement in care and more positive patient experiences.