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athenahealth, eClinicalWorks, Epic to Launch Virtual Assistants

eClinicalWorks, Epic, and athenahealth are launching voice-activated, virtual assistants within their EHR systems to reduce clinician burnout.

Epic EHR

Source: Thinkstock

By Kate Monica

- Health IT companies including eClinicalWorks, Epic, and athenahealth are developing EHR-integrated virtual assistants akin to Amazon’s Alexa to reduce provider burden and secure a competitive advantage in the crowded EHR marketplace. 

eClinicalWorks launched its virtual assistant Eva in December. The EHR tool is designed to assist clinicians with prescription ordering, locating patient medical histories, and viewing lab test results. The technology is already integrated into eClinicalWorks’ V11 EHR offering.

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“It’s a game changer,” Hamilton Healthcare System Clinical Informatics Director and Nurse Millie Shinn told The Boston Globe. “To say, ‘Eva, show me today’s lab,’ and it just pops up — that efficiency is huge.”

Eva is designed primarily to streamline simple tasks for physicians and improve EHR usability. Enabling EHR usability improvements is top-of-mind for health IT developers as rates of physician satisfaction in some specialties continually trend downward.

Utilizing virtual assistants could increase face time between patients and providers by reducing administrative burden and enabling providers to access information quickly and efficiently. The user-friendly tool can automatically pull up patient EHRs upon request, order medication refills, and provide specific patient information in response to clinician questions.

“Physicians will be able to interact with technology a lot easier — as easy as using Alexa,” said eClinicalWorks Vice President of Sales and Co-Founder Sameer Bhat. “Technology like this will really cut down the time and help them find information.”

In addition to enabling providers to locate information more efficiently, the tool can also simplify the EHR interface. Eva can display many pieces of relevant patient health data from several sources on a single screen. Instead of opening and clicking through several windows to locate patient information, clinicians will be able to view health data in one uncluttered window.

Simplifying EHR design and display can help to avoid provider confusion and reduce the threat of patient harm, according to a recent Pew Charitable Trust report.

While eClinicalWorks has already debuted its EHR-integrated virtual assistant, Epic is still in the process of developing its own. Epic Director of Research and Development Adam Whitlatch told the Globe the feature will be tested next month before launching industry-wide.

Epic’s virtual assistant will be built into its mobile app. The technology will help streamline providers’ ability to view patient health data and track appointment schedules.

Whitlatch stated the healthcare industry is ripe for adopting this kind of feature as healthcare providers become more comfortable with their EHR systems and voice-activation technology continues to advance.

“This is actually an ideal use case for this type of technology,” said Whitlatch.

athenahealth’s virtual assistant functionality is also slated for release soon. The health IT company is currently in the testing phases of development.

“Number one right now, folks are looking for work reduction,” said athenahealth Chief Product Officer Kyle Armbrester.

Armbrester stated its virtual assistant has so far yielded dramatic results.

While Eva and other developing virtual assistant tools have the potential to revolutionize EHR usability, market researchers are hesitant to declare the technology a success until it has been widely deployed.

“User experience is key for a vendor to sell products, and it’s key for a vendor to enjoy a successful relationship [with customers],” IDC Health Insights Research Director for Provider IT Transformation Strategies Mutaz Shegewi told Boston Globe reporters.

“If that doesn’t deliver, that’s going to be a huge disappointment,” he added.

As stakeholders continue to press health IT developers for EHR usability improvements, innovations such as virtual assistants could help to assuage persistent concerns about physician burnout and dissatisfaction. 

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