Physician burnout is a prevalent condition, with 42% of doctors reportedly suffering from it and administrative complexities especially the documentation processes in the healthcare systems are often daunting. The processes can however be simplified by tech automation, which when leveraged properly can decrease administrative overhead and streamline processes both before and after care through scheduling appointments, managing patient communications, billing patients, and collecting payments. The result is a seamless experience among stakeholders, that can remove intermediaries, reduce costs, and lead to higher quality healthcare delivery and better patient outcomes.
Punit Singh Soni, Founder & CEO, Suki, an AI-powered, voice-enabled digital assistant for doctors, discusses how technology can be used to help reduce the amount of time and energy providers spend doing administrative tasks.
Soni, a seasoned product leader who has been part of high-growth teams at Google, Motorola, Flipkart and Cadence Design Systems and holds an MBA from The Wharton School and an MS in Electrical Engineering from University of Wyoming also highlights the challenges in the healthcare space and how the government and private healthcare entities can work together towards making healthcare inclusive.
What are the current technology challenges in the healthcare market in India?
Adoption of healthcare technology has seen a massive surge, fueled by the global COVID-19 pandemic but there are still a few major challenges in the Indian healthcare system which need to be addressed. A key one is the lack of a centralized information repository about the healthcare system. Without it, even basic information such as the number of hospitals in the country is hard to come by. Coordinating care between providers and hospitals is almost impossible, yet we know that disease prevention and management of chronic conditions is most successful when providers can share information, collaborate, and track patients over time.
The recent announcement by the Government in Union Budget 2022 is a big step in addressing some of these critical issues. With its renewed focus on digitization in healthcare and introduction of an open platform for the national digital health ecosystem, the segment will now witness digital registries of health providers and health facilities, unique health identity, consent framework and universal access to health facilities being created.
Even though the pandemic has accelerated technology adoption in healthcare, where do you see the gap?
Physician burnout has been a long-standing issue. Studies show that physicians spend two hours on administrative tasks (clinical documentation, prescription paperwork, etc.) for every hour they spend on patient care, leading to high levels of physician burnout. The Covid pandemic has greatly exacerbated the situation: caring for the influx of Covid patients adds even more pressure and stress, not to mention the corresponding clerical tasks that the physicians must complete.
Digital transformation across industries has opened tremendous opportunities of leveraging deep tech (AI, ML, Blockchain, etc.) to help the overall health tech ecosystem evolve. Today, in India, internet penetration is much higher and internet speed is faster than many developed countries. This robust infrastructure drives faster adoption of technology across all sectors, including healthcare.
But if you look at the Indian healthcare system, the adoption of the electronic medical record is quite low. Doctors even today quite commonly use paper charts, leading to time inefficiency and a missed opportunity in leveraging the value of healthcare data. AI voice solutions can help alleviate some of the burden from physicians. And given that voice is a natural and fast way to interact, voice-enabling tools and solutions can indeed help clinicians complete their tasks more quickly and easily.
Data protection and privacy are key concerns for healthcare firms. What are your thoughts for India?
Data, specifically structured data, are very important in today’s technology driven world and so is its privacy, safety and security. At the end of the day, the act of privacy, and security is not just a technical act, but it’s also a cultural attitude, which means the entire company needs to understand that these are people’s lives that we are talking about.
Every employee needs to understand the importance of privacy and keeping this data safe, and permissions and processes must be implemented to ensure people only have access to what is minimally required to do their jobs. Infrastructure needs to be established to mitigate risk from bad actors. Finally, it’s important to be clear and transparent to the market about what data can and cannot be used for.
For example, companies in this space should be firm that no matter how much data they have access to, they are never going to use the data for anything except for making the core product better. In our case, we do not sell the data to pharma or to any other avenue where it can generate revenue, the only thing we will do with the data is to make Suki better. And the only job Suki will do is to make sure it can serve the doctor. So, when you put together these frameworks and commitments in place and lay emphasis upon educating employees, I feel we have a very strong position in terms of privacy and security.
How can government and private healthcare firms and health tech entities work towards making healthcare inclusive?
Stakeholders, whether government, private firms, physicians, etc., need to understand the importance and push for a data infrastructure that is universal and interoperable. It is the only way to make healthcare inclusive. If not mandated, well-funded hospitals and clinics may invest in health data solutions, which will benefit their patients. But what about hospitals that are treating lower income patients that may not be able to afford these types of solutions? These patients are at risk of getting left behind. We believe initiatives like the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission which intends to roll out a digital health record for each Indian citizen are essential to making healthcare inclusive. With initiatives like these, India is poised to be a global leader in healthcare.
Kindly elaborate on the brand journey of Suki AI. What was your inspiration.
After spending many years at Google and having spent time as the Chief Product Officer at Flipkart, I wanted to start something on my own that had the potential to have both societal and business impact. Healthcare sits at the cross-section of these goals. I spent a few months shadowing doctors to learn about how they work and their pain points. In these sessions, it struck me that the doctors were typically the most distracted person in the appointment. They were trying to listen to their patients, while also capturing relevant details in the electronic health record (EHR), systems that are not known for being intuitive and easy to use. I felt it was a huge disservice that these highly trained medical professionals had to spend so much time on clerical work, instead of patient care and I felt there was an opportunity for technology to help alleviate this problem. So that’s what I set out to do.
Healthcare is a conservative, slow-moving industry that is somewhat at odds with startup culture, which is fast-moving and typically operating under shorter time horizons. Building a healthcare startup requires more resources, a long-term view of what we are building and what we are trying to accomplish, and a great team that understands the vision, executes against it, and has the patience to endure lengthy sales cycles. At Suki, our mission is to reimagine the healthcare tech stack, making it invisible and assistive, so doctors can focus on what they’re trained to do: take care of patients. We have to be high integrity but also fluid and understanding of the demands on it. It needs to manifest the cutting-edge AI that it is built from, yet be highly stable and secure. Our brand identity is built around these different attributes.
How is the company differentiated in today’s crowded marketplace?
Suki is focused on lifting the administrative burden from physicians. Physicians have so many clerical tasks on their plate – studies show they spend two hours on these tasks for every hour they spend on patient care. This administrative burden is driving extremely high levels of physician burnout, and we believe technology can help alleviate this problem.
Suki Assistant uses the latest in AI and voice technologies so physicians can speak naturally to complete their administrative tasks, from clinical documentation to diagnosis coding to retrieving information from the EHR. Suki harnesses advanced NLP and machine learning algorithms to deliver an accurate and responsive experience for physician documentation. We also offer our proprietary voice platform, Suki Speech Platform, to partners that wish to create a best-in-class voice experience for their solutions, such as electronic medical records. Such functionality is critical given healthcare technology solutions are increasingly looking at voice as a way to improve user experience.
There is no voice assistant in the market which exists primarily to serve doctors. We are completely differentiated in terms of the core product and constituency we serve.
At a time when physician burnout is leading to a mass exodus of talent, kindly explain how is Suki helping physicians to focus on the patient?
Physician burnout is an epidemic. Up to 70% of physicians say they experience some level of burnout, and the primary reason is due to the massive amounts of administrative work placed on them. Suki’s mission is to lift the administrative burden from doctors, so they can focus on what matters – their patients. Suki Assistant uses the latest in AI and voice technologies, so physicians can speak naturally to complete their administrative tasks, from clinical documentation to diagnosis coding to retrieving information from the EHR.
Our studies show users reduce their documentation time by an average of 76%. We take a lot of care in creating a solution our users enjoy and are very gratified to hear positive feedback from our users, such as Dr. Alex Ereso, Plastic Surgeon, who says “Not only did Suki increase the quality of my time with patients, but it also improved the quality of my notes. The level of detail in my Suki notes has improved decision making during surgery as well as with post-op care.” And we are proud to have a 51 net promoter score, on par with brands known for their excellent user experiences such as Apple and Amazon.
What are your growth plans for India in the next 12-18 months?
With the recent Series C funding of $55 million, led by March Capital, with additional support from Philips Ventures, and all previous investors, including Venrock, Flare Capital, Breyer Capital, and in Health Ventures, we are looking at expanding our India team in 2022, where we have hired top product and engineering talent in the country.
We will use this funding to make strategic investments that will lead to an expansion of our user base through new and existing partnerships with leading health systems and medical groups while bolstering employee growth and development. We also plan to advance the AI capabilities of Suki Assistant and Suki Speech Platform, and add new features that streamline documentation, coding, and other administrative tasks for physicians.
How are you planning to grow the company’s footprints in India?
In the next five years we are looking to hire the best talent globally (including India) and build a truly global platform. Using this rich repository of talent available in India, we at Suki want to build for the future of health systems and emerge as the torchbearer of the still nascent SaaS based healthcare technology space in the country.
Our goal is to help establish India as a global hub for solving the biggest and most complex healthcare challenges faced by the world. With world class mentors and industry professionals, we are looking for great tech talent who can learn and build at a global scale, which in return will encourage India’s tech talent to venture into healthcare technology as a space to build the best products. We have an incredibly exciting year ahead of us – our business is projected to grow by over 200%, and our team in India will be a key part of our success.