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Nuance debuted its “exam room of the future” earlier this year at the healthcare conference HIMSS. (Nuance Photo)

Microsoft is teaming up with Nuance Communications to revamp hospital exam rooms with artificial intelligence and natural language processing, creating technology that will help clinicians spend less time documenting interactions with patients — a well-known source of burnout among health workers.

Studies have found that doctors spend more than half their day interacting with the electronic health record (EHR). And more than two-thirds of physicians say that medical record documentation contributes greatly to burnout.

Joe Petro. (Nuance Photo)

“Physician burden has basically reached epidemic levels. Depression rates, suicide rates, divorce rates — job satisfaction is at an all-time low,” said Joe Petro, chief technology officer at Nuance, in an interview with GeekWire.

Both Nuance and Microsoft already have efforts in this arena. Burlington, Mass.-based Nuance markets the Dragon Medical platform, which is used by half a million physicians to streamline documentation using conversational AI. The company debuted its “exam room of the future” earlier this year at the healthcare conference HIMSS.

Microsoft’s EmpowerMD is an AI platform that can assist doctors by listening in and learning from their conversations with patients.

Microsoft and Nuance plan to create a system that automatically creates a document in the electronic health record following a healthcare visit. The clinician will then be able to review and edit the notes after the appointment.

To accomplish this, the companies will need to translate unstructured data — in this case, a doctor-patient conversation — into structured data that can be stored in the medical record. The system will use smart devices to listen to conversations and identify speakers, then artificial intelligence to turn that speech into a medical note.

Greg Moore. (Microsoft Photo)

But the vision for the future is even bigger.

“As AI improves, we expect AI to understand conversations and help our EHR partners convert observations into actions — reducing risk, flagging things, making them actionable, or even helping them recommend an effective care plan. This could be start of such a platform for them,” said Greg Moore, Microsoft corporate vice president for health technology and alliances. The companies didn’t specify whether Epic or Cerner — the two largest EHR companies — are involved in the effort.

The financial details of the partnership were not disclosed, but the companies said that Nuance will move its computing infrastructure to Microsoft Azure as part of the deal. They expect to roll out the technology with several groups of physicians next year.

Microsoft has inked a number of healthcare partnerships to bring its cloud computing capabilities into hospitals. The software giant is working with UCLA on a cloud platform for precision medicine and with Providence St. Joseph Health on a project to modernize how clinical data is stored and analyzed.

Seattle startup Saykara makes a virtual assistant that also translates doctor-patient conversations into clinical notes through a smartphone app.

Tech rivals such as Google and Amazon are joining Microsoft in the race to modernize healthcare data. Amazon has a project to mine medical records and recently launched an on-demand primary care pilot for its Seattle employees. Google also has several hospital partnerships to spot patterns in medical records and is working on a number of efforts to diagnose diseases with artificial intelligence.

Nuance has a large presence in the Seattle region as a result of several acquisitions including VoiceBox, Swype, Tweedle, Varolii, and Jott.

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