January 29, 2021

    The AAFP Innovation Lab: Identifying Transformative Technology to Optimize the Primary Care Experience

    We are currently assessing new technologies related to telehealth, patient engagement, and the simplification of documentation in the clinical setting.

    Family medicine physicians are amidst a crisis that has no easy answer. Technology has allowed clinicians to be more effective in some areas of their work but has also created unintentional complexities in other areas. Electronic health records (EHRs) are a good example of this paradox. Digitizing medical records offers an opportunity to enable clinical data to flow more easily. In practical terms, this presents many interoperability challenges. Prior to COVID-19, family medicine was threatened by a perfect storm of physician burnout, transformation to value-based care and new competitive care models and options.   

    The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) is dedicated to optimizing the family medicine experience for family physicians and their care teams and for patients and their families. Toward this goal, the Academy supports family physicians by promoting innovations that address these challenges. To achieve this goal, the AAFP established the Innovation Lab to identify transformative technology. When we are presented with technology, we assess its usefulness and sort it into three categories. Technology should 1) enhance and compliment the skill sets of the physician, 2) change how medicine is practiced, and 3) improve symptoms of burnout. Our goal is finding as many of these types of solutions as possible. While the Innovation Lab realizes that there is no one solution to solve many of these problems, by layering technology there may be a substantial improvement for family medicine physicians. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a new facet to the breadth of solutions we are exploring for members. We are pivoting to support practices with telehealth and patient engagement efforts as well as working to support the simplification of documentation in the clinical setting.


    For years prior to COVID-19, most e-encounters and phone visits were not reimbursed. As the pandemic spread in early 2020 and individuals stayed home and delayed needed care, clinics across the country lost millions in revenue because health care was financially reliant on face-to-face visits.

    As urgent care and retail clinic visits climb, primary care practices struggle to preserve continuity of care. Offering prompt access to patients’ primary care clinicians via phone or video can enhance both continuity and access, avoiding urgent care and retail clinic encounters. Moreover, millions of phone and video visits are offered by private companies such as Teladoc, unlinked with patients’ primary care. These visits undermine the longitudinal therapeutic relationship, spawn additional face-to-face visits, and increase costs. These fragmented encounters can be avoided when primary care permanently ramps up telehealth capacity. The Innovation Lab will be looking to pilot innovations to support that ramp up.


    Today, the Innovation Lab is working with companies that have technologies that are transformative for clinicians and easily adoptable in a practice workflow. One of the challenges physicians face is the ability to document in a timely manner. The complexity of patient conditions and the short amount of time for scheduled interactions will push the documentation aspects beyond the clinic setting infringing on personal time at home. This is where the Innovation Lab can provide expertise. We have found technology, at a reasonable price, that can keep the clinical flow moving without adding more complexity. The AAFP is exploring this technology with pilot programs in its Innovation Lab that are also currently available to members. Clinical digital assistants are providing promising results in this area. By leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, routine tasks can be handled in a safe and effective way that allows the clinician to focus on areas that require complex expertise.  

    Suki is an AI-powered virtual digital assistant. The physician interacts with the patient’s chart via voice rather than keyboard entry. This tool works more efficiently than pure dictation software as it allows the physician to request things such as the display of trending lab values and imaging study results. We have seen substantial decreases in the dreaded after-hours documentation, with reductions of up to three hours per day in some cases, when this software is implemented. Over time the tool learns the physician’s clinical rhythms and will get faster as it spots the trends and patterns of patient assessments. This technology is accessed through an app on the physician’s smart phone or via a web browser on a laptop. The integration takes several days and takes place between Suki and the EHR vendor. There are no significant demands put on the clinic, support staff, or the physician. Training for these tools is fairly brief and intuitive. Within hours the software is working as designed and providing value to the physician.


    This clinical digital assistant is ready for use in practices today. We are currently seeking a range of practices with athenahealth, Cerner, Epic, or eClinicalWorks EHRs to join the pilot program today. On average 2-3 hours per day is returned to physicians. This starts to add up very quickly to 14 to 20 hours per week or 50 to 80 hours per month. Certainly, this technology could be used to see more patients in a clinical day; however, the ability to reassert control of your schedule during patient interactions would be just as, if not more, valuable. If you are interested in learning more about this solution and would like to try it free for 30 days and continue to use it at a special AAFP member rate, please contact suki.ai/aafp for more details and to set up a time to chat about your practice and the unique challenges you are facing.

    For more information, visit the AAFP Innovation Lab.

    Suki is a voice-enabled digital clinical assistant for doctors that lifts the burden of medical documentation and administrative tasks. Powered by artificial intelligence and natural language processing, Suki creates clinically accurate medical notes and completes administrative tasks such as retrieving patient information from the electronic health record (EHR). Suki understands physicians, adapting to their specialty, clinical setting, and speaking style, becoming more personalized as they use it.