Less documentation burden, more time with patients: Lessons learned in AI from Central Virginia Family Physicians Medical Group

For physicians, administrative overload is all too common and its effects are insidious. EHR systems, optimized for billing rather than documenting information quickly and effectively at the point of care, aren't supportive in capturing clinical notes. As a result, the burden of fragmented documentation has grown, leading to exhausted physicians — a problem that healthcare leaders can't afford to ignore.

To address the issue, new artificial intelligence-based platforms are now available that can help physicians complete documentation faster and allow them to focus on what matters most: caring for their patients.

Becker's Healthcare recently spoke to Jared Dodd, MD, medical director of Central Virginia Family Physicians Medical Group (Lynchburg, Va.), to learn how his organization has reduced administrative burden for its clinicians. 

The quest to improve physician quality of life

CVFP has always worked hard to take care of its physicians and keep them happy. As an independent medical group, the organization doesn't have the deep pockets of a hospital system, but it offers a unique culture. "We try to do everything we can to lighten the administrative load so doctors can succeed in our environment," Dr. Dodd said. "While they might not make the same salary as at a hospital, we strive to provide a quality of life that makes the tradeoff worthwhile."

To achieve this goal, the team decided to search for solutions that could streamline day-to-day tasks and reduce the time needed to navigate patient charts and complete documentation. 

"I feel like it actually takes more time for physicians to document visits today than before the healthcare sector went electronic," Dr. Dodd said. "Back in the day, I would carry a Dictaphone or a little mini-recorder in my pocket, come out of the examination room, dictate the patient note and then move on to my next appointment. I didn't have to click through a bunch of screens on a computer." 

As CVFP began looking for solutions to simplify tasks for clinicians, important criteria included cost and a track record of success. The team researched different products, read reviews and asked trusted colleagues about tools they were already using. 

"As an independent organization, we weren't looking for heavy, high-cost technologies," Dr. Dodd said. "We also wanted to feel confident that the solution we chose would be a 'sure thing.' We just don't have the capital or the margins to start implementing a tool, only to have it turn into an expensive mistake."

Finding a research-backed, seamless and user-friendly documentation tool

Although CVFP didn't go into their search looking specifically for AI-based platforms, they found a few alternatives that seemed extremely promising. One was Suki. 

"We found Suki through the American Academy of Family Physicians," Dr. Dodd said. "The AAFP had given Suki its stamp of approval after completing a study with them. Since we are all family physicians, we trust the AAFP and felt much more comfortable selecting Suki for our organization." 

The implementation process was simply a matter of downloading the app and signing into Suki. The Suki team then led CVFP through online training. "Suki is probably one of the easiest technology tools I've ever used," Dr. Dodd said. "It's so intuitive that we were all up and running on it within a day or two of being onboarded." 

Every physician uses slightly different workflows, and Suki's flexibility is something that the CVFP physicians appreciate. Dr. Dodd, for example, usually waits until after a patient visit to dictate his medical decision-making into Suki on his smartphone. That information is then merged into the patient's record in CVFP's athenahealth EHR system. 

"I like to finish all my work before leaving for the day, but some partners do dictations with Suki at home as they prepare dinner, while others dictate in the examination room and use it as a tool to reinforce the care plan with the patient," Dr. Dodd said. 

Medical decision-making is highly individualized because every patient has a unique plan. By dictating medical decision-making with Suki, physicians capture much richer content about their thought process than by typing in the EHR. While it's possible to use templates for things like physical exams or reviews of systems in an EHR, having a template for medical decision-making doesn't make sense. 


CVFP has been using Suki for about two years, and the physicians have been very happy with their decision. "Suki has significantly cut down on the amount of time that our doctors spend on their notes," Dr. Dodd said. "That gives them more time to spend with patients, to take care of other tasks or to go home early to their families."

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