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30 percent or more of their day on administrative tasks, with 79 percent of clinicians spending more than 15 percent of their day on such activities. Virtual assistants help handle these tasks, reserving physician time for patient care. Here’s an example of Florence, a virtual assistant designed for

healthcare, helping streamline ordering of medications through intelligent dialogue. Not only does Florence recognize physician dialogue, but the technology understands the intent of commands. T is allows physicians to prescribe medications, place lab orders and request diagnostic procedures via a natural language interface.

Beyond the exam room Virtual assistants have the potential to add value in other aspects of patient care, providing solutions to common medical issues for both patients and their providers beyond the exam room. Virtual assistants can assist with the coordination of patient care among multiple caregivers by facilitating immediate access to all details in a patient’s record, regardless of where the patient was seen last. T is allows the referring physicians and caregivers to deliver safe, eff ective treatment to patients with even the most complex backgrounds. Perhaps now more than ever, patients are focused on being their own health advocates and are seeking ways to leverage technology to take a more active role in their own care. With virtual co-presence becoming commonplace in daily life, patients are expecting and pushing for virtual physician access outside the care setting. Roy Lilley, independent health policy analyst,

writer, broadcaster and commentator on health and social issues, explains this frustration in a recent blog post: “My mother is 93 years old and has an iPad. She wants to know why she can’t FaceTime the practice nurse. So do I.” Integrating virtual assistants into mobile technolo- gies grants patients access to quality care, even when they are outside of their physician’s offi ce. T ese tech- nologies also have the ability to tackle recurring issues, such as medication adherence and patient compliance. A recent Mayo Clinic study estimates that roughly 50 percent of patients do not take their medicines as pre- scribed, leading to medication-related adverse events. Readmissions stemming from these medication-related adverse events, including non-adherence, can cost hospitals as much as $10 billion annually. Patient- facing virtual assistants have the potential to provide patients with regular reminders, dosage instructions and pertinent information about their prescriptions, potentially increasing medication adherence. Improved patient compliance leads to more eff ective treatment and simultaneously reduces the risk of readmissions, saving hospitals billions of dollars each year. “Conversational technology and telemedicine are creating a space full of opportunity for doctors and HEALTH MANAGEMENT TECHNOLOGY May 2013 15

patients to collaborate over real-time data,” says Ivana Schnur, M.D., Ph.D., co-founder of, an organization that develops products designed to engage patients through natural sensory interactions, such as speech and gesture. “Supplemented by proven clinical protocols and motivational goals, the practice of medicine will shift its focus from reactive care to prevention, wellness and compliance, yielding a more patient-centered and cost-effi cient system.” By reinventing the way physicians and patients interact with technology, virtual assistants are drastically altering the overall healthcare experience. With the power to understand natural dialogue and process massive amounts of data, virtual assistants are putting the “care” back in healthcare. As these intelligent sys- tems become ubiquitous, developers are quickly identifying ways to tackle even more complex issues, such as cost containment, erroneous billing and readmission rates. Can we take the com- plexity out of the system and begin to humanize healthcare? T e answer is “yes.” Intelligent virtual assistants can help us navigate the complexity and focus on what’s important: quality, effi cient patient care.


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