Vanderbilt researchers to develop EHR voice assistant, advise Epic on similar projects


Researchers at Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt University Medical Center are creating voice-assistant software to help clinicians interact with the EHR.

Five notes:

1. Yaa Kumah-Crystal, MD, an assistant professor of biomedical informatics and pediatrics at VUMC, is leading the EHR Voice Assistant — abbreviated as "EVA" — project.

"Right now our main focus is the way providers and people on the medical side interact with the computer, but it can be broadened out eventually to encompass patients and anyone else," she said in a news release.

2. EVA's prototype, which researchers are still building on, allows a clinician to pull up a patient record and ask a question, such as "What was the last sodium?" EVA will then transcribe the query, retrieve the clinical test value and indicate whether the result is normal. Although EVA currently replies to voice queries with text, the researchers are working on adding voice capabilities.

3. The researchers are assessing and integrating various commercial software packages to develop EVA, such as testing different natural language processing services to determine which best converts a clinician's voice query into text.

"Google, Amazon, Microsoft and others offer tool kits and components that can be used for this kind of thing," said Dan Albert, associate director of health IT product development at VUMC. "We've done a bit of work to evaluate those, and the next phase will be to build something to try in real use with a small number of our providers."

4. The EVA team at VUMC is advising Epic, which is building its own EHR voice assistant. Epic is VUMC's EHR vendor.

5. The researchers plan to begin soliciting feedback on EVA from select VUMC clinicians in February. Dr. Kumah-Crystal said the project will be particularly useful for clinicians who are multitasking, such as to help clinicians order labs while rounding in the hospital.

"The goal is to make it as natural as having an actual conversation with a really useful intern," she said.

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