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Voice-Powered Technologies to Help Combat Physician Burnout


Physician burnout is multifactorial, but one component is the amount of on-screen documentation required for physicians. In the hospital, this takes the form of writing daily progress notes and placing orders. This also occurs in the outpatient setting where physicians might spend hours after clinics catching up on notes, when they are supposed to be off the clock enjoying time outside the hospital.

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One significant shift I have noticed as a resident physician is the use of voice recognition software to expedite electronic medical record documentation tasks. At Brigham and Women’s Hospital, we use an application called Dragon Nuance PowerMic to dictate medical notes through our smartphones into the electronic medical record. Immediately after using this, my efficiency in the hospital and clinic significantly improved. I can now finish clinic notes in a matter of several minutes, when before it would take five times as long.

More importantly, this increased efficiency has made me happier. I can prepare clinical notes much more quickly and thoroughly than before; not to mention, reduce my risk for carpal tunnel syndrome.

This leads to my next point: How else can voice recognition software improve physician workflow and thus help reduce physician burnout?

Boston Children’s Hospital is already testing many voice applications in different settings, including retrieving medical information in the surgical rooms where physicians are sterile and unable to touch a computer. From my personal experience, using Epic (our electronic medical record software) to place laboratory orders, while routine, accumulates to a lot on on-screen clicking. One could envision using voice dictation to order labs, images and nursing communications. This could be especially useful in emergent medical situations when a patient is clinically decompensating. Often times, there are only one or two physicians in the room helping stabilize the patient. As a result, placing orders for basic labs and imaging becomes challenging because available computers are usually outside the patient’s room. Voice-powered orders can mitigate this problem.

Furthermore, enabling voice dictation for Epic’s smartphone application, Haiku, can tremendously improve physician efficiency in the hospital. Often times, physicians quickly move from one patient’s room to the next. Having to stop to log into a computer to place an order many times per day can grow to be an inconvenience and consumes time. Being able to login to Epic via a smartphone using one’s fingerprint and then dictate an order for a lab test, chest X-ray, patient’s diet or any other order would not only save physicians a lot of time, but I argue will make them happier by making this process more convenient.

Voice dictation will not solve physician burnout, but it can make the computer-oriented tasks that cause burnout more efficient and seamlessly integrated within a physician’s desired workflow.

About the Author

Daniel Yazdi, M.D., M.S., is an internal medicine resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School who is interested in the intersection of digital health and clinical medicine. He can be followed on Twitter @DanielYazdi.

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