Technology listens as doctors keep talking

September 21, 2011 | Source: Technology Review
Clinical Language Understanding

A physician talks through a case using speech recognition software. (Credit: Nuance)

Medical dictation software company Nuance Communications is developing what it calls Clinical Language Understanding. It’s designed to automatically extract information from a doctor’s dictated narrative description of a patient and use it to fill out electronic records.

Clinical Language Understanding has been developed with the IBM researchers who created Watson, the computer system that was able to understand natural language well enough to beat humans on Jeopardy!.

Nuance’s efforts are a response to the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, passed in 2009. The act provides financial incentives and penalties to push health-care providers toward using electronic patient records. The hope is to reduce errors that come from handwritten notes and make it easier to track all aspects of patient care.

The problem, says Chris Russell, a neurologist with Peachtree Neurological Clinic in Atlanta, is that “electronic health records make life better for everyone in the doctor’s office except the doctor.” Russell, a software developer as well as a physician, created his own product, called NoteSwift, which helps doctors use Nuance’s software to fill out fields in an electronic medical record one by one.