This AI Software Company Just Raised $20 Million To Help Prevent Physician Burnout

March 9, 2020

How much would a virtual assistant boost your productivity at work? For doctors that are exhausted from long hours typing up patient medical records, it could be game-changing, says Punit Soni, founder and CEO of Suki AI, a virtual assistant app for clinicians. The startup just raised a $20 million Series B round from Flare Capital Partners, First Round Capital, and Venrock, doubling its total funding to $40 million since its 2017 launch. 

The premise of Suki AI is simple: It’s Alexa for doctors. Similar to how people can order Amazon’s voice-enabled digital assistant to set a reminder or tell them their schedule, doctors can use Suki to take notes during patient appointments and those notes will automatically fill out electronic health records (EHRs). That’s increasingly important as doctors spend more time logging data and less face time with patients. A 2017 study from Annals of Family Medicine found that doctors spend almost two hours on tasks related to EHRs for every hour of direct patient care. Decreasing time with patients can lead to symptoms of burnout, including emotional exhaustion and depression, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

The Redwood City-based startup, which was featured on Forbes’ AI 50 list last year, will use the capital to keep expanding its workforce (it has 50 employees now) and create new services, such as voice-enabled patient billing. Soni — who previously worked at Motorola, Google, and Indian ecommerce company Flipkart— declined to share the company’s new valuation following the fresh capital (it was valued at $65 million last fall after it’s Series A).

Doctors download the Suki app on their phone or desktop computer and speak to the software, which uses natural language processing, a field of artificial intelligence, to transcribe notes, show data when asked (“Suki, show me the patient’s clinical history”), and place medication orders. When the patient leaves the office, the doctor’s notes are automatically transferred to their electronic health records. Right now Suki is compatible with electronic health records from providers Epic, Cerner and athenahealth.

Suki has competition. Saykara, Robin Healthcare and Vocera all make voice-activated devices that doctors can speak to. The difference, Soni says, is that Suki doesn’t have any physical hardware. “We are the only pure software company in this space,” Soni says. That allows it to keep price points low. A human medical scribe can cost between $60,000 and $80,000 per year, while Soni says that Suki costs an average of $200 each month. “Whether we are the smartest people in the rooms or the dumbest ones, we don’t know. But what we do know is that this strategy is unique,” Soni says.

Suki still has a big challenge to overcome. As patients become more concerned about medical data privacy, will they really want an app listening in to their most vulnerable moments? Suki has public partnerships with Google Cloud (Soni worked at Google for eight years) and Ascension health system, both of which were criticized last year for an undisclosed partnership where Google employees reportedly had access to Ascension patient data. Soni says that Suki was “completely unrelated to that,” and values patient privacy. The software doesn’t passively listen like Alexa, and only begins transcribing notes when the doctor asks it to. Soni also says that the software is fully HIPAA-compliant, though engineers at the company do use “insights from the users to train Suki.”

Soni says that the app is currently being used at about 85 healthcare sites around the country. “In about the last 10 or 11 months we have seen 40x growth in usage,” he says. “The scale is pretty intense, to be honest, for a small startup.”

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