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Voice in medicine is obvious

April 30, 2009

Medical costs are rising at extraordinary rates and much of that cost is a result of too many highly trained professionals doing mundane clerical tasks: Filling in forms, updating charts, writing prescriptions, creating reports … Now, couple that with the “hands and eyes busy” nature of most medical encounters and it just seems clear that an intelligent voice-based synthetic agent/assistant would not only be less expensive than live medical personnel … but … it would lead to faster, more accurate, more legible, correctly filed information.

There is already a movement afoot to create an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) infrastructure across the industry.

This is exactly the kind of base technology that is needed to support synthetic agents. The data entry for an exam becomes almost as simple as the doctor or nurse narrating as they observe and measure: “Raised pink rash on the forearms,” “temperature is 98.9,” “Complaining about pain and stiffness in the left elbow,” etc. As a patient I would like to know what is going into my record and I would like to stress some points if I think they were missed by the doctor.

This is only the beginning of what could be done, and, it can be done without relying on any new magical technology. For fun, out of an immense pool of possible scenarios, let’s imagine one:

Mr. Jones [the patient]: “… like I was saying, I am having trouble when I straighten this arm. I have to do it slowly or else it hurts.”

Dr. [to patient]: “Let’s see that arm. [manipulating arm] does this hurt?

Mr. Jones: Yes, right there.

Dr.: Can you straighten it for me?

Mr. Jones [straightening arm and wincing]: Yes, but it’s harder to move here.

Dr.[ still looking at Mr. Jones’ arm]: “Cassandra, note that the patient is complaining of pain and stiffness in the left elbow.”

[Cassandra is the synthetic agent that the Dr. speaks and listens to through an unobtrusive “on the ear” headset. She knew that the Dr. was speaking to her because she listens all the time and knows when and what it means to “take a note.”]

Cassandra[speaking into the Dr’s ear]: “Note: complaining of pain and stiffness in the left elbow.”

Cassandra[interjecting]: “History: Patient mentioned a tightness of his left elbow last year about this time.”

Dr.[all while looking at Mr. Jones]: Is there some sport or activity you start in the spring?

Mr. Jones[thinking] Well, I started my golfing ….

Nothing in this scenario is far fetched.

We can create this synthetic agent today.

We should.