Google voice recognition could transcribe doctor visits

It's betting that speech detection could save doctors valuable time.

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Doctors work long hours, and a disturbingly large part of that is documenting patient visits -- one study indicates that they spend 6 hours of an 11-hour day making sure their records are up to snuff. But how do you streamline that work without hiring an army of note takers? Google Brain and Stanford think voice recognition is the answer. They recently partnered on a study that used automatic speech recognition (similar to what you'd find in Google Assistant or Google Translate) to transcribe both doctors and patients during a session.

The approach can not only distinguish the voices in the room, but also the subjects. It's broad enough to both account for a sophisticated medical diagnosis and small talk like the weather. Doctors could have all the vital information they need for follow-ups and a better connection to their patients.

The system is far from perfect. The best voice recognition system in the study still had an error rate of 18.3 percent. That's good enough to be practical, according to the researchers, but it's not flawless. There's also the matter of making sure that any automated transcripts are truly private and secure. Patients in the study volunteered for recordings and will have their identifying information scrubbed out, but this would need to be highly streamlined (both through consent policies and automation) for it to be effective on a large scale.

If voice recognition does find its way into doctors' offices, though, it could dramatically increase the effectiveness of doctors. They could spend more time attending patients and less time with the overhead necessary to account for each visit. Ideally, this will also lead to doctors working more reasonable hours -- they won't burn out and risk affecting their judgment through fatigue.