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AI can take notes for your doctor. One Kansas hospital hopes that leaves more focus on the patients

 Dr. Gregory Ator works on patient notes, something that can take hours to complete after work.
photo courtesy of Bob Hallinan
The University of Kansas Health System
Dr. Gregory Ator works on patient notes, something that can take hours to complete after work.

After that last patient visit of the day, doctors and nurses can face a daunting pile of paperwork they couldn’t get to during a busy schedule.

“We do have some providers that are spending as much as two hours, basically, after hours, working on those,” said Dr. Gregory Ator, chief medical informatics officer at The University of Kansas Health System.

A recently announced partnership between KU Health System and Abridge — a medical technology company — aims to help alleviate the paperwork burden with artificial intelligence.

A study published last year by the American Medical Association found that about 63% of physicians reported feeling burnt out. In 2020, that number was at 38%.

Monotonous clerical work is one of the factors attributing to burnout. Abridge’s technology looks to alleviate the burden by recording and automatically transcribing patient visits, summarizing the conversation and organizing the information needed to complete paperwork.

Dr. Shiv Rao is the co-founder of Abridge and a cardiologist. He hopes AI technology can help remove distractions for providers and patients during meetings.

"There’s just something about the way we’re wired, that it’s hard to be present in the moment, especially when we’re getting a new diagnosis or something kind of heavy is happening,” Rao said.

The technology also can offer ongoing help for patients. Patients will be able to access notes from a conversation and the summary will break down medical jargon to a fourth grade reading level. The software can also use reminders to help patients follow through with recommendations.

Ator said breaking down the barriers that complex medical language creates can ultimately lead to better care for patients.

“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of jargon,” Ator said. “There’s big words, big medical words. There’s a translation needed.”

KU Health System will start deploying the technology soon with a select group of medical staff before offering it at more than 140 locations. Patients and providers will have the ability to opt out if they wish.

However, AI technology does have its faults. Researchers studying AI transcription have reported racial disparities in what the programs can understand and correctly transcribe.

Researchers at Stanford University published a study in 2022 that found common transcription services offered by companies including Google, Apple and Microsoft did a worse job transcribing the speech of Black people.

“What we found consistently across the board was that the word error rates … for Black speakers was roughly twice that of white speakers,” said Allison Koenecke, one of the authors of the study.

Compared to commercial AI assistants like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, Koenecke said more specialized medical applications can be at greater risk of disparity. That could lead to worse health outcomes for patients.

“It's increasingly difficult for these more niche applications to represent a diverse set of voices,” she said.

Rao said racial disparities in Abridge’s AI technology are something his company is mindful of and working to reduce. There’s ongoing testing and recruitment of researchers aware of disparities in the field.

“It’s a very, very important, serious issue that we all need to consider,” he said.

Samantha Horton covers health care for KCUR and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @SamHorton5.

TheKansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Copyright 2023 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Last month, we welcomed Samantha Horton to our station. She is Indiana Public Broadcasting reporter, mainly reporting on business and economic issues in the States of Indiana for WBAA. After graduated from Evansville University with a triple majors degree (International studies, Political science and Communication), Samantha worked for a Public Radio at Evansville for three years, and then she joined WBAA because she wanted to take a bigger role on reporting. So far she enjoyed working in WBAA as business and economy reporter.