ObjectRealm adds data access to standard telephone systems

July 26, 2000

ObjectRealm adds data access to standard telephone systemsASP links mobile docs with patient infoWith all the talk these days about the potential for personal digital assistants and wireless Web-based applications to revolutionize

ObjectRealm adds data access to standard telephone systems

ASP links mobile docs with patient info

With all the talk these days about the potential for personal digital assistants and wireless Web-based applications to revolutionize clinical decision-making, some vendors are keeping their focus on a more traditional communication device: the telephone.

Similar to the bevy of companies touting Internet-based “personal health records” as the next big thing in enhanced patient-provider interaction, these companies believe that patients increasingly expect their physicians to respond to questions and needs in a timely manner, regardless of workloads or travel schedules. But they are convinced that adding intelligent voice-recognition capabilities to existing telephone networks is a better solution than requiring healthcare providers to fill yet another pocket with yet another digital device.

“For physicians and practitioners, PDAs are still kind of elusive,” said Dempsey Nugent, president and CEO of ObjectRealm Consulting Group. “But they all have pagers and access to a phone, and the phone acts as the acquisition device.”

That is the strategy behind ObjectRealm’s decision to evolve from a general systems integrator to a provider of voice-based healthcare applications. The Columbia, SC-based firm is leveraging its expertise in medical records systems, HL7, and object- and Internet-based technologies to develop alternative methods for remote access to healthcare information.

In the last six months, ObjectRealm has put together an ASP model to deliver voice technology software and services to mobile healthcare professionals and introduced its first computer telephony product, myVoiceAssistant, in May. myVoiceAssistant is a Windows NT-based voice-recognition package for physicians, nurse practitioners, and practice managers that uses a single phone number to consolidate all peer-to-peer communications: voicemail, e-mail, faxes, pagers, cell phones, and access to corporate and patient databases.

“We are not voice recognition experts,” Nugent said. “We take our expertise and adapt the voice access to a vertical market (healthcare) that we understand in depth. What we do is take a look at a day in the life of a physician and try to determine how they need to use the ‘follow me’ function and how they are already working with many of these devices.”

myVoiceAssistant uses command-based voice-recognition technology from Conita Technologies, a developer of natural language voice-enabled software and personal virtual assistant technology. Conita works with Nuance command-based speech recognition and AcuVoice text-to-speech technology to enable intelligent filtering and call routing. The software underlying myVoiceAssistant was written in C++ and Java; the package also includes a Web-based component that allows users to manage their voice systems via the Internet, making myVoiceAssistant more a personal productivity system than just a data-access tool, according to Nugent.

“Conita’s technology provides physicians and other mobile healthcare professionals with an efficient method for accessing databases and computer-based patient records; checking, sorting, and responding to e-mail, voicemail, and faxes; and routing information through phone calls to any location via simple verbal commands given through any phone connection,” he said.

Additional features include e-mail alerts and call prioritization. For larger facilities, the company can build a customized voice-to-data interface to existing information systems that will enable HL7-based queries to patient records and other databases.

“We use a technique called dynamic grammar to enter diagnoses or procedures into the patient record using ‘pick lists’ or single words that can be recognized and associated with the appropriate code,” Nugent said. “There is a fine line between the ability to update records based on voice forms and true charting.”

myVoiceAssistant is initially being made available via an ASP hosted by ObjectRealm. Physicians pay $29.95 to $49.95 per month (versus as much as $100 per month for an answering service) for around-the-clock, automated access to data, faxes, and messages via a single phone number. All of these functions are handled by ObjectRealm’s data center using existing phones and paging systems, so no additional hardware costs are incurred.

“As an ASP, we can host a system that replaces the answering service and the in-office assistant and creates a voice interface that gives users access to clinical systems using HL7 and XL12,” Nugent said. “Although some of this technology has been available, it has not really been packaged so that physicians, practitioners, and home health technicians can get into the clinical database.”

ObjectRealm is already working to add more complex functionality to myVoiceAssistant, such as prescription ordering and practice management. The company also expects to expand into continuous speech recognition to enable transcription and other applications, including a virtual operator that can handle such tasks as scheduling appointments and processing prescription refills.