April 29, 2019 09:58 am David Mitchell – Brent Sugimoto, M.D., M.P.H., was working at home when his 2-year-old daughter sat down with a piece of cardboard she had fashioned into a pretend laptop and repeated something she had heard him say.
"I have to work!" she said.
"I thought, 'There is something wrong here, and it has to change,'" Sugimoto said.
Sugimoto had spent years building a practice in Oakland, Calif., with a focus on patients living with HIV. The decision to walk away was difficult, but he was experiencing symptoms of burnout.
"I had so much work after clinic, and that was time away from my children," said Sugimoto, who left his practice in January. "I don't think being separated from your kids in that way is sustainable for any long period of time."
Sugimoto's frustration with EHRs has been percolating for years. As a resident, he served on an advisory council that helped implement an EHR system for a county health system.
"We had to fit our workflows into Epic, not the other way around," he said. "That was a big red flag that the use of that system was not going to make things easier for us."
Sugimoto, who was elected the AAFP new physician Board member candidate on April 27, hopes he can help other physicians avoid the situation he found himself in. In January, he helped found Decoded Health. The startup has an exclusive license on artificial intelligence technology developed at SRI International and is applying it to primary care.
"It felt like the right time to take a big leap," said Sugimoto, who is Decoded Health's chief medical officer. "It was something I had to do. Family physicians need to be involved in the solution so that AI works for us. Otherwise, we will be under AI's thumb."
Decoded Health could have a minimally viable product ready to test as soon as this fall, according to Sugimoto. The aim, he said, is to offer something more than just a health data repository by adding automated capabilities to handle tasks such as telephone triage, documentation and patient followup. The platform can listen to patient speech for signs that may help a physician recognize depression and perhaps could be adapted to listen for signs of other health conditions, such as dementia.
Sugimoto said some physicians are concerned that AI will be used to replace them, but he sees the technology's potential to allow physicians to focus on patients and help them do their jobs better.
Sugimoto will be one of the physicians testing Decoded Health's prototype when it is ready, with the hope that it will allow him to be the doctor he wants to be.
"I want to experience that," he said. "I want to take care of patients and have it be about the patient and not inbox management."