Nuance Readies Virtual Assistant Florence for 2014

Following up on a beta launch in March, Nuance Communications is planning to commercially release its virtual healthcare assistant Florence in 2014.

The Florence virtual assistant listens, understands meaning and intent of a conversation, takes spoken commands, and fulfills requests. Additionally, Florence can access patient data, order labs, prescribe medications, and alert physicians to possible contraindications.

Florence marries voice interfaces with natural language understanding and Nuance's clinical language understanding (CLU) technology, which Dr. Nick van Terheyden, chief medical information officer at Nuance, likened to "natural language on steroids."

CLU, he said, "allows us to extract from the narrative the discrete data that is absolutely essential for the meaningful use criteria, but it doesn't ask clinicians to enter that data using the keyboard or mouse.

According to Jonathon Dreyer, director of mobile solutions marketing in Nuance's healthcare division, Florence is a logical step in Nuance's product roadmap. "We've been doing a lot in this space with virtual assistants and conversational user interfaces in the consumer space over the last few years, and we started to look at what we could do in the healthcare realm," he says.

Ahead of Florence's release, Nuance surveyed U.S. doctors and found that 80 percent believe that within five years voice-enabled virtual assistants will dramatically change how they interact with and use electronic health records and other healthcare apps. Those polled also said mobile virtual assistants could be of the most benefit by helping them access information in electronic health records (EHRs) and navigate systems using conversational commands. One out of three doctors said they spend 30 percent or more of their day on administrative duties that could be redirected or removed using virtual assistants.

Florence will be embedded into some applications, such as EHR products, other documentation tools, or ordering software, such as computerized physician order entries. "We're looking to break down the technology between the physician and cut through layers of the application for navigation commands using voice," Dreyer says.

He adds that another goal is to simplify the complex workflows that require back-and-forth dialogues between users and systems.

Florence is also aimed at clinicians who want to concentrate on the human aspect of practicing medicine but at the same time focusing on documenting care, especially in the face of meeting government mandates.

"It's letting doctors practice medicine without having to worry about the technology," Dreyer says. "We're working to help physicians to address technology shifts. They're in the middle of this, from the shift from paper to electronic and the wave of other changes that they face."

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