(Editor's note: As of Jan. 7, 2021, family physicians can still register to participate in stage two of the AAFP's Innovation Lab pilot of the Suki digital assistant.)
June 25, 2020, 10:35 am David Mitchell – Family physicians interested in reducing documentation burden in their practices will have an opportunity to test a new artificial intelligence tool -- at no cost -- when the AAFP's Innovation Lab pilot with the Suki digital assistant moves to stage two.
"We saw real promise in this technology to optimize the family medicine experience by reducing burden and enhancing practice and physician capabilities," said AAFP Vice President and Chief Medical Informatics Officer Steven Waldren, M.D., M.S. "In stage one we saw that promise to be a reality."
Suki is a digital assistant for physicians that combines artificial intelligence and voice-enabled technology. Waldren said the product achieved proof of concept with a cohort of 10 family physicians using the same type of EHR system (Athena) in a variety of practice settings during stage one. Now the AAFP and Suki will expand the test -- to replicate stage one findings -- with a larger group of physicians, while also opening participation to doctors who use Epic and PowerChart EHR systems in addition to Athena. (Further EHR integration is in development.)
Waldren said the Academy seeks to recruit as many as 100 family physicians to participate because expanding the scope of the test will allow the AAFP and Suki to better "understand the characteristics of practices that will be successful with this type of solution."
Family physicians can visit the Innovation Lab to register for the expanding Suki pilot, learn more or be notified of future opportunities to assist in trials of other innovative tools. Registration will remain open as long as space in the pilot is available.
In stage two of the Suki pilot, physicians will use the tool for up to 30 days and participate in an interview about their experiences afterward. Participants can continue to use the product free of charge for as long as three months and will be eligible for discounted pricing after that.
Interviews conducted after stage one revealed that participants saw significant benefits in several categories:
John Abraham, M.D., who practices at a primary care clinic in Tulsa, Okla., has been using Suki for more than a year. He said the percentage of his patient visits that feel rushed dropped from 90% to 15%. He said he briefly dictates notes between patient visits and gets a clean copy back from Suki, minus the "ahhs and umms."
"My job satisfaction is up because I'm giving patients more time," he said. "I don't have anxiety about having to move on to the next visit. If I had to type in all the problems I want to address with each patient, it would be more stressful. I find it beneficial in connecting with patients because I'm not as focused on taking notes. It's very efficient."
Abraham said 90% of his notes are completed before his next visit, up from 70% before the pilot. He said the increased efficiency has made it easier for him to quickly respond to messages from patients.
"If I don't get things closed out by the end of the day, I'm exhausted," he said. "This makes it easier to put work aside at home. I try not to bring home a lot of work, and if I do bring anything home, it's not hours and hours of charting. That's a relief."
Abraham said Suki has been proactive in developing its product and asked participants for feedback. He also noted that the use of voice-enabled technology had not been affected by the need to wear a mask during the pandemic.
The Innovation Lab is part of a 42-month special project approved by the AAFP Board of Directors in fall 2018. Suki was the first pilot, and two or more other pilots will be planned each year.