Nuance Healthcare Opens its Development Platform for Speech Enabling mHealth Apps

By Ariel Jones — January 18, 2012

The 2012 Mobile Clinician Voice Challenge, which will run through February 3rd, 2012, is an open call to all healthcare app developers to use Nuance Healthcare's medical speech recognition technology in an innovative mobile or web-based app. The company is providing entrants with access to Nuance's secure, cloud-based, development platform with the hopes that it will help clinicians achieve meaningful use.

"We're really looking for creative ways that help to support the clinical workflow, and the anticipated interaction that the end user will have with the application," Jonathon Dreyer, Senior Manager of Mobile Solutions at Nuance Healthcare, told Mobile Enterprise. "Medical speech recognition for a mobile platform is really going to help support the adoption of these clinical-oriented applications."

Entrants will have complete access to all software tools, documentation, and online support in the Nuance Healthcare Development Platform, which includes Nuance SpeechAnywhere (powered by the company's Dragon Medical or SpeechMagic technology), client-side software components for mobile devices, advanced Clinical Language Understanding technology, and a web services gateway for managing account and user activity.

The platform already supports a number of mHealth applications, according to Dreyer, with more than 100 healthcare-specific partners actively developing on it. He expects the Mobile Clinician Voice Challenge to bring in a couple dozen more applications for the judging panel to consider.

"There's such an adoption of [speech recognition] in the consumer space, that it's become more of a mainstream input method," Dreyer said. "Over the last decade, speech recognition technology has been pretty prominent within healthcare, and especially on the mobile devices."

Applications will be evaluated based on innovation, functional implementation, workflow and patient care benefit, and overall visual appeal. Dreyer is joined on the judging panel by:

  • Janet Dillione, EVP and General Manager of Nuance Healthcare;
  • Dr. Steven Zuber, CMIO of Methodist Health System;
  • Mr. HIStalk, leading healthcare IT blog;
  • and Dr. Andres Jimenez, CEO of ImplementHIT.


Achieving Meaningful Use Through Voice-Enabling

According to Dr. Jimenez, voice-enabling mHealth applications provides opportunities for better point-of-care documentation, as well as increased productivity. Convenience of data entry is a main draw, but, he told Mobile Enterprise, adding intelligence to the application adds great benefit. "For instance, voice queries using varying search phrases that may be more natural or intuitive to the user," he said. "Increasing the intuitiveness of any application dampens the learning curve leading to greater adoption - this is a large hurdle for many EHRs."

Dr. Jimenez currently implements voice-enabled apps to speed up his workflow, switching between his iPad and iPhone throughout the day. "I see about 40 patients in a day, and about 90 minutes after my last scheduled appointment, not only are all my patients seen, but I have notes finalized and charges and orders entered.

"When it comes to any health IT, the end goal for me as a practicing physician is using a tool that can help me get through my day faster, while maintaining or enhancing the quality of care I deliver to my patients."

Fellow challenge judge Dr. Zuber adds: "I think the main benefit of voice-enabling mHealth apps is that physicians can continue to have high-quality documentation as they move away from transcription towards front-end speech recognition."

He also believes mobility is an essential feature that will lead to the adoption of workflow-based mobile apps. "As physicians need and want anytime-access to patient data, an avenue to enable voice recognition on a mobile device will be key," Dr. Zuber said. "Most doctors would welcome a time in the future when they can speak their orders instead of having to manually enter them into a computer or mobile device. Personally, I think a successful app would be easy, intuitive, and complement our workflow. It must also seamlessly and transparently interface with our current EMR."

Innovation in mHealth Apps through Speech Recognition

Dreyer anticipates that the majority of applications will be related to EHR, where speech recognition can lighten the workload of intensive documentation, especially when documents are entered via mobile devices.

"As the device size and form factor goes down - going from a tablet to a smartphone with the physical or on-screen keyboards getting smaller - it becomes very challenging to input significant amount of text, especially in the healthcare setting," he explained. "If you're being forced into using a system and having to input all this data without alternative methods for data entry that support those workflows, it would be very difficult."

In addition to demonstrating functional implementation, the applications also must be visually appealing and user-friendly. "Historically these healthcare apps have lacked in beauty, some of the systems are more just data entry systems," Dreyer noted. "First and foremost, these physicians and clinical professionals are consumers, and they use these devices and platforms in their everyday lives. It's really a win-win situation - the industry's being pushed that way because of the consumer space, and the tools are available to do that now."

Successful apps will also have to make creative use of Nuance Healthcare's speech recognition technology. Beyond simply voice-enabling a text field with two or three lines of code, Dreyer are looking for innovative uses of the development platform; the ability to use voice commands to navigate through a program, freeing a physician's hands to do something else, is a feature he will be looking forward to seeing.

"One of the advantages of this development platform is - as we see clinicians and workflows moving away from traditional client-heavy desktop apps to mobile apps running on a variety of devices and platforms - we have a way to satisfy the market's need for speech recognition," Dreyer said. "Some of the apps we're seeing from the challenge are very unique - this is what we wanted from the challenge."

Winners of the Mobile Clinician Voice Challenge will be announced at HIMSS 2012, and featured in the Nuance Healthcare Mobile Showcase.


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