Google AI could transcribe your next doctor’s appointment

Keeping records of their patients is a large part of a doctor’s job – perhaps too large a part for some practitioners. One study, for example, points to doctor’s needing to dedicate 6 hours in an 11-hour day to documentation. At a time when tight budgets and excessive workloads make every second of a shift count, that paperwork can be burdensome.

Google AI could transcribe your next doctor’s appointment

Google has been investigating the way it could clear up some of that time, bringing its automatic speech recognition capabilities into the GPs office. The technology behemoth’s research wing – Google Brain – has partnered with Stanford University on a study that looks at the scope for a Google Assistant-like AI to transcribe conversations between doctors and patients.

As Google explains in a blogpost, the researchers managed to successfully use automatic speech recognition to record and transcribe a number of speakers, and were also able to cover a range of subjects – from medical terminology to the weather.

There’s room for improvement, however. The lowest error rate managed in the study was 18.3%, which the researchers says is “practical for transcribing medical conversations”, but might miss some of the nuance in more general conversations.

There’s also the question of how comfortable you would be having Google record and keep a transcription of your private medical information. This is the company, after all, that largely runs its business by monetising data gathered from its users. That doesn’t set an encouraging precedent when it comes to sensitive conversations you may have with a consultant. If Google were to roll this out, it would need to seriously convince users that data would be anonymised, which in itself could be a cumbersome process of permissions.

From a technical view, however, helping doctors by automating some of the documentation looks intriguing. If it works, it could potentially give medical professionals more time to work with patients and reduce some of the stress in balancing treatment with admin tasks.

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