As more physicians are taking their practices online, software companies have also had to adjust their services. One example: Saykara, a startup developing an AI voice assistant to automatically fill health records, had to shift its platform to Zoom.

In early March, Saykara celebrated a milestone when its AI voice assistant was able to operate autonomously, meaning for some specialties, it could automatically update patient records and notes without any clicks or voice commands.

But a few weeks later, the Seattle-based startup had to quickly adjust to a new world where most appointments are being conducted online.

“Thing were growing every day until we had the hiccup of Covid thrown in there,” said Dr. Graham Hughes, president and COO of Saykara.

Most health systems have cancelled elective procedures, which range from annual checkups to hip surgeries. Those that could began to offer telehealth appointments.

“The rest of healthcare that needed to go to a clinical setting started to pivot toward a chaotic mashup of virtual conferencing tools,” Hughes said. “A number of our customers had started to standardize on Zoom.”

Saykara had previously set its voice assistant so that it could operate using a smartphone. In March, the company quicklyed work to integrate its platform with a HIPAA-compliant version of Zoom. The change was more than just working with Zoom’s APIs. Saykara ended up helping physicians manage scheduling and patient reminders for their virtual appointments, a challenge that many reported when they first shifted to online appointments.

“It’s been kind of a crazy time. We had to do a whole bunch of work in two to three weeks to get our customers up and running,” Hughes said. “They said, ‘it’s difficult for me to notify a patient at the time they have an appointment, it’s difficult for me to remind them and it’s difficult for me to know they’ve arrived.’ The whole workflow was different.”

The switch to telehealth also led to some changes from a paperwork perspective, as billing rules are different between in-person and telehealth visits. Saykara added a reminder to include information that medical coders need to bill for the visit appropriately.

After the initial bumps in the road of figuring out how to best conduct telehealth visits, Saykara said physicians and patients were adjusting. The startup keeps track of volumes, including how many patients are being seen and the duration of those conversations.

Initially, Hughes said he saw the decrease in elective surgeries, state by state. Now, those numbers are on the rise again. Hughes doesn’t think the change is necessarily from health systems beginning to offer elective procedures again, though some have begun to take moves in that direction. Rather, he thinks it is from telehealth.

“This uptick we’ve seen in the last two weeks is fairly dramatic. Most organizations have figured out how to do these video visits,” he said. “We’ve seen nearly a doubling. We’re nearly 60% of the way back to normal visit volumes in many specialties because they’ve figured out how to do virtual visits.”

Saykara currently works with 25 health systems, including Providence Saint Joseph Hospital and Swedish Medical Group.

Photo credit: Saykara

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