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Seattle-based digital health startup Saykara wants to free clinicians from the mountains of paperwork that await them at the end of the day. The company’s solution is Kara, a virtual assistant that recently learned a nifty new skill: it can now document an entire doctor-patient conversation without interruption.

Until recently, Kara worked like consumer-focused virtual assistants Alexa, Siri and Google assistant. Clinicians would periodically summon Kara to summarize important patient information, either during a visit or following the appointment.

Now, Kara is capable of listening to a long, uninterrupted conversation and figuring out what’s relevant. Called “ambient mode,” the skill is an important step in Saykara’s goal of promoting human interactions between clinicians and their patients.

“Doctors can embrace Kara and really not change their workflow at all,” said Ryan Plash, vice president of growth and strategy at Saykara. “It really helps restore the physician-patient relationship, which is really suffering in healthcare right now.”

Following a visit, the clinician checks to make sure the notes are accurate.

The big challenge that Saykara has faced is turning regular conversations into structured data. To do that, it has developed machine learning algorithms that can listen for relevant details and take notes just like a doctor normally would.

Listen to the GeekWire Health Tech podcast episode above, featuring Harjinder Sandhu and Ryan Plasch of Saykara.

Saykara is addressing the shortage of physicians in the U.S. by going after the problem of burnout. Seventy-one percent of physicians say that medical record documentation contributes greatly to burnout, according to a 2018 survey from Stanford Medicine and Harris Poll.

The task of entering patient data into electronic medical records has put a major strain on clinicians across the U.S. The problem was encapsulated in a New Yorker article last year by Atul Gawande, the CEO of Haven, the healthcare joint venture between Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway.

“Something’s gone terribly wrong,” Gawande wrote. “Somehow we’ve reached a point where people in the medical profession actively, viscerally, volubly hate their computers.”

Ryan Plasch, vice president of growth and strategy at Saykara, and CEO Harjinder Sandhu. (GeekWire Photo)

The U.S. is also facing a major shortage of primary care doctors. Plasch thinks the virtual assistant can help prevent physicians from leaving the field and give them the ability to see more patients if needed. Seattle-area company 98point6 is similarly addressing the primary care shortage by offering virtual primary care clinics.

Saykara was launched in 2015 by CEO Harjinder Sandhu, who first started building voice-based technology for medical professionals in the late 1990s. The app is being used at 20 healthcare organizations, including Providence Swedish Health, Providence Kadlec, Hancock Hospital, Multicare Healthsystem and OrthoIndy Hospital. The app can be used in 18 different specialties, such as primary care, pediatrics and orthopedics.

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