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Stanford University School of Medicine

Stanford-Google digital-scribe pilot study to be launched

Electronic health records stand out as an oft-cited source of stress that contributes to the worrisome prevalence of burnout in physicians. Now, Stanford family medicine doctor Steven Lin, MD, working with Google Research, has an idea that could help.

Some medical practices, including the Stanford family medicine clinic on campus, use human scribes to enter information into EHRs, allowing physicians to concentrate on patients, rather than the computer. But what if a device could interpret each office visit and -- using speech recognition and machine learning tools -- automatically enter the information into an EHR system?

Lin and his Google collaborators are now launching a pilot study to investigate such as system, which they are calling a "digital-scribe." A digital-scribe could save physician time, lessening the need to enter data. It could also improve the visit for patients, who would again have the full attention of their physician, Lin pointed out.

"We're hoping this benefits everybody," he said.

Their 9-month-long study will include all nine doctors at the family medicine clinic; clinic patients will have the option of participating. Researchers will take steps to ensure patient privacy is protected, by removing patients' protected health information (PHI) from data that is used in the study, Lin said.

The doctors will wear a microphone and record the visit. Team members will then use machine learning algorithms to detect patterns from the audio recordings that can be used to automatically complete a progress note, which is the primary EHR document that describes the office visit. Progress notes include everything from vital signs and symptoms to a diagnosis and treatment plan, he said.

"This is really new and we're in the early stages of this technology," Lin said. The pilot study will identify challenges and indicate whether a digital-scribe is feasible, he said.

If it works well, Lin said the goal is to develop a tool that can be used broadly.

Previously: Promoting joy in medicine: Dean Lloyd Minor and fellow leaders offer insights, Health care leaders gather to examine physician well-being and Commentary expresses "building resentment against the shackles" of electronic health records
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