Suki's Dr. Nathan Gunn on minimizing clinician burden, containing costs and more

Prior to the widespread transmission of COVID-19, healthcare was experiencing an epidemic of clinician burnout. The pandemic has almost certainly worsened the problem.

Innovative technologies can play a major role in supporting the efforts of hospital and health system leaders working to help their organizations recover financially and support clinicians. Nathan Gunn, MD, the COO of Suki, an artificial intelligence-powered digital assistant for physicians, recently spoke with Becker's Hospital Review about how providers can minimize clinician burden, leverage valuable cost containment strategies and more.

Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity. 

Question: What makes your organization's mission unique?

Nathan Gunn: Something we say often at Suki is "every pixel is in service of the doctor." Suki's mission is to lift the administrative burden from doctors, so they can focus on taking care of patients. Our focus on serving doctors is unique — while there are many other stakeholders, our priority is building a product that is addressing administrative problems doctors have to deal with. And, it must be easy to learn, intuitive to use and adaptable to many types of workflows.  

Many of the clerical challenges faced by doctors occur because of solutions that place the needs or requirements of other groups, like administrators or the billing department, on the doctor. Suki puts a lot of attention and effort on making sure doctors can complete their tasks more easily and quickly, and not burden the doctors with extraneous steps.   

Q: How can providers minimize clinician burden?

NG: One of the major contributors to clinician burden is clinical documentation and the lack of good, affordable solutions to help with documentation. On one end of the spectrum, there are voice-to-text solutions that are relatively low cost, but the accuracy is sometimes lacking so providers have to spend time correcting errors. On the other end, scribes (in-person or virtual) can complete documentation more accurately, but have to be trained, are subject to turnover and are expensive. 

Suki is a digital clinical assistant. We use artificial intelligence to understand natural spoken language and contextual intent; with use, Suki learns the physician's preferences so that it can complete documentation and other tasks to the physician's liking. Our language models are tuned for healthcare, and our machine learning algorithms have been trained on a very large sample of medical notes, so our accuracy is very high. And because we use technology, not humans, to power our solution, we are a more affordable solution.

Q: What recent healthcare trend has had the most profound influence on the way your organization operates?

NG: COVID-19 has dramatically impacted us. Early in the pandemic, many of our customers were trying to deploy telemedicine solutions and workflows, and we needed to be able to support them. Fortunately, as a small company we can move fast, so we were able to quickly launch telemedicine templates that help providers document these encounters more rapidly. We also partnered with a telehealth company called QliqSOFT to provide our customers with an end-to-end solution where QliqSOFT provides the platform to conduct the virtual visits, and Suki handles the documentation.

Interestingly, with elective procedures on hold and fewer office visits, we actually have had an uptick in providers who want to give Suki a try now that they have some open time in their schedules. We broke our record for the number of notes done in a single day last week, which was not something we anticipated during the pandemic, but a milestone we are excited and grateful for.

Q: What are some of the most valuable cost containment strategies in healthcare?

NG: Healthcare delivery is a low margin business and unfortunately COVID-19 has put enormous financial strain on the healthcare system. Physician burnout has been an issue for some time and physicians are at greater risk now with the pandemic, especially those on the front lines.  Burnt out physicians have a higher risk of making medical mistakes and may reduce their caseload or even stop practicing — all very expensive ramifications. If we can help prevent burnout by reducing the administrative work placed on physicians (as Suki does, by an average of 76 percent), this will have a significant impact on an organization's financials. 

We've done some pretty thorough analysis of what doctors who use Suki do with the time they save on administrative work. There are two big findings. First, they increase their encounter volume by 12 percent, which brings in revenue. We've also found that Suki reduces claims denial rates by 19 percent; because physicians speak naturally to Suki to generate their notes, they increase the clinical richness of notes (even while spending less time on documentation), and as a result, the claims associated with the encounters are less likely to be denied.

Q: What is the most important thing providers should consider when establishing vendor relationships?

NG: The ability of the vendor to meet the provider's needs. Not just in having a solution for whatever problem the provider is trying to fix, but also consider whether the vendor is responsive to requests, whether the solution requires a lot of scarce IT resources to implement, whether the solution can be easily scaled, and whether the solution will be readily adopted and accepted by the constituents. 

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