Louisiana Health System Deploys EHR-Integrated Voice Assistant

Sept. 18, 2023
James Craven, M.D., president of Franciscan Health Physicians, describes dual effort to be more present for patients and reduce administrative burden on physicians

Baton Rouge, La.-based Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System (FMOLHS) is working to reduce administrative burden and physician burnout and improve patient engagement by deploying an AI-based voice assistant for physicians. James Craven, M.D., a vascular surgeon who is president of Franciscan Health Physicians, recently spoke with Healthcare Innovation about this effort.

This year, Redwood City, Calif.-based Suki announced the integration of its AI-powered voice assistant with Oracle Cerner and Epic EHR software. The company said its Suki Assistant helps clinicians complete time-consuming administrative tasks by voice and recently announced the ability to generate clinical notes from ambiently listening to a patient-clinician conversation.

Craven spoke about a few of the reasons that the Suki Epic integration was valuable to FMOLHS.

HCI: I understand your organization started implementing the Suki digital assistant to help relieve administrative burden on providers related to the EHR. Could you talk a little bit about how high a priority that is and what you hear from physicians about the challenges they face in documentation and how that relates to burnout?

Craven: We had two initiatives ongoing. We had a “We Listen, We Heal” brand positioning. Consumers obviously want quality but they want access, and they really wanted a provider who will listen to them and give them their full attention. Another initiative in our health system involved improving the provider experience. The EMR has been fantastic. We love the EMR; it's good for the patient. But the reality is, it is a whole lot more involved than just writing something on paper quickly. So this was a great opportunity for us to go out and look for technology that made us more present for our patients at the same time we felt we were breaking down some of the barriers that our providers experience every day.

HCI: There are several types of solutions like this on the market. Did you look at a bunch of different ones? Why did Suki stand out?

Craven:  We are about a $3.5 billion health system. That is large, but not the size of some of the biggest organizations across the country. We looked at technologies such as this and we were looking for a company that would be engaged with us to find the right fit for the providers and that's exactly what they were for us. There are tons of technology options. But what we were excited most about was a company that really came in and got to know our providers, got to know the experience we're trying to improve for our providers. The company really worked with us and we were allowed to make modifications of the product along the way that met what the providers are trying to achieve and what was best for our patients.

And that was exciting for us. You usually think of Seattle or Austin, where all the technology hubs are and where everything's piloted, but here in Baton Rouge, we had a great opportunity to work with a company that was integrated within our electronic medical record, Epic. I think some of the modifications of the platform came from how we piloted it among our providers.

HCI: For the physicians, is use of the tool voluntary?

Craven: It is an opt-in, but we believe that this is technology that's going to really grow in its value to the providers. We first started with people who are very technology-inclined and always want the latest and greatest. We did our own internal mapping to figure out that there's a certain subset of our providers that really finds it to be beneficial, so we focused the early pilot on them. It is the small things that make a difference to the providers. We are trying to improve the experience.

HCI: Have you heard from people who've implemented it? Does it take some time to figure out how to make adjustments to their workflow?

Craven: I find with anything in healthcare at this point, such as an Epic update, you almost have to re-center yourself and refine yourself to some degree. We have a big initiative on closing the charts in a timely fashion. We found this was a great opportunity to help those providers who are struggling in that aspect and put them on a different trajectory. We feel that those providers are not spending all that pajama time at home trying to finish some of this off. We really believe that we're just on the cusp of what this technology can do as it evolves. I really think it's going to simplify those patient encounters and the documentation requirements that are there.

We have got a few different initiatives on what I would call burnout. But I think our providers are more engaged when we offer them these types of opportunities with technology. It is a competitive marketplace in Louisiana and Mississippi, so our providers have the opportunity to go to competing health systems. We have to be proactive in what we're providing them so they see us as the employer of choice for healthcare. So again, I think these are some of the small things we're doing to truly improve that provider experience from within our organization.

HCI: You have around 1,300 providers across the health system. Can you say what percentage of those are active users already?

Craven: It's not yet over 50 percent. I think it's available to those that wants to play in this space. Providers are creatures of habit. But I will tell you this new generation is very technology-savvy. They look at organizations for employment to make sure they're on the appropriate EMR. We use Epic as a recruiting tool. It's a great modality, but at the same time, it can't just be all about Epic. It's got to be about some of the other bells and whistles that we can we provide them. I do think a sweet spot is really within our primary care providers, given the number of encounters they do on a daily basis. That is where we found our sweet spot.

HCI: Do you have any recommendations for other provider groups that are just thinking or getting ready to implement something like this?

Craven: As you look for a technology partner, make sure they're going to be a good fit for your organization. There are plenty of vendors and opportunities out there. But your vendors have to listen to you and really get that feedback, because it's got to work for you. Every organization is different and you have to meet providers where they are.

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