NEW ORLEANS — This month, Ochsner Health is launching a pilot program that uses AI to draft simple messages to patients in the MyOchsner app portal. A small group of Ochsner clinicians will participate in testing a new Epic feature that drafts responses to routine patient requests, which will then be reviewed and edited by the clinicians. The feature is meant to speed up app response time to patients and allows doctors to spend more time with patients.
“Ochsner has long been a leader in using digital tools to improve the patient experience,” said Ochsner Chief Medical Information Officer Louis Jeansonne, MD. “Now we are looking at how technology can simplify workflows for our clinical staff, which should significantly reduce the hours they are spending away from patients.”
Ochsner is part of an early adopter group to test the feature utilizing Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI Service, which integrates with Epic’s electronic health record software. Approximately 100 Ochsner clinicians across the system (of 46 hospitals and 370 centers) will participate in the first phase of the pilot, testing simple messages unrelated to diagnoses or clinical judgments.
Patients who receive messages from their physicians via the MyOchsner app can be assured that their provider has complete oversight and involvement. All technology incorporated into clinical workflows is HIPAA-compliant and messages are securely encrypted for purposes of safeguarding patient privacy. Before a message can be sent to the patient, the feature’s design ensures a human must always review the message’s accuracy and make any needed changes before signing off on it, so the communication between the patient and the clinician always has a human touch. Clinicians are educated in the importance of remaining engaged with patient communication, relying on the drafts only for support.
“The AI will generate a draft for the clinician to review and send. It’s meant to help clinicians respond more quickly to patient messages, so patients can get answers to their questions sooner,” said Ochsner Chief Application Officer Amy Trainor. “And it will reduce time our clinicians are spending on computers so that they can spend more time doing what they do best—direct patient care.”
The rapid rise of reliance on EHR messaging has improved access to care and made for a more seamless coordinated care experience for patients. However, a study published in the Annals of Family Medicine in 2017 found that primary care physicians were spending more than half of their workday, nearly 6 out of 12 hours, interacting with the EHR during and after clinic hours. The message demand on clinicians has only intensified in recent years, as the pandemic fast-tracked adoption of telehealth and digital medicine tools across all patient audiences. In 2022, over 4 million medical advice requests were sent to physicians via the MyOchsner app.
Trainor says there are three phases of the pilot through fall 2023, and that each phase will collect patient feedback to further enhance the system.
“At Ochsner, we are constantly looking for ways to improve our patient and provider experience, and we believe this pilot will show that AI can help relieve the messaging burden on our clinicians,” said Trainor.
“AI holds great promise for innovation in healthcare and we are already imagining new ways we can use AI to improve the health of our communities,” said Ochsner Chief Digital Officer Denise Basow, MD. “We never forget that caring for people is why we’re here, and our patients are top priority in everything we do. We are entering this new frontier with excitement and a commitment to transparency, accountability, safety and security.”
About Ochsner Health
Ochsner Health is an integrated healthcare system with a mission to Serve, Heal, Lead, Educate and Innovate. Celebrating more than 80 years of service, it leads nationally in cancer care, cardiology, neurosciences, liver and kidney transplants and pediatrics, among other areas. Ochsner is consistently named both the top hospital and top children’s hospital in Louisiana by U.S. News & World Report. The not-for-profit organization is inspiring healthier lives and stronger communities through its Healthy State initiative, a bold and collaborative plan to realize a healthier Louisiana. Its focus is on preventing diseases and providing patient-centered care that is accessible, affordable, convenient and effective. Ochsner Health pioneers new treatments, deploys emerging technologies and performs groundbreaking research, including 4,000 patients enrolled in 685 clinical studies in 2022. It has more than 37,000 employees and over 4,700 employed and affiliated physicians in over 90 medical specialties and subspecialties. It operates 46 hospitals and more than 370 health and urgent care centers across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Gulf South; and its cutting-edge Connected Health digital medicine program is caring for patients beyond its walls. In 2022, Ochsner Health treated more than 1.4 million people from every state and 62 countries. As Louisiana’s top healthcare educator of physicians, Ochsner Health and its partners educate thousands of healthcare professionals annually. To learn more, visit https://www.ochsner.org/.