Amazon Announces ‘Transcribe Medical’ for Doctors to Record Patient Conversations; But Is It Ready for HIPAA?

Published on December 3, 2019

After Amazon announced AWS DeepComposer, the world’s first machine-learning-enabled musical keyboard for developers at AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas, the conference continues with another exciting announcement—AWS Transcribe Medical, an improved machine-learning service for doctors to help streamline patient care.

But this shouldn’t be a surprise, as this isn’t Amazon’s first rodeo as it continues to penetrate the health sector. It’s only diving deeper into the profession, now announcing its newest voice transcription technology that is designed to allow doctors to spend more time with patients and less time at the computer.

Last Year’s ‘Amazon Comprehend Medical’

At last year’s re:Invent, AWS introduced a related service called Amazon Comprehend Medical, which “allows developers to process unstructured medical text and identify information such as patient diagnosis, treatments, dosages, symptoms and signs, and more,” according to the company’s blog post.

This HIPAA-eligible machine learning service also was centered around better addressing data privacy and protected health information (PHI) requirements.

The need for such a technology is evident by the amount of time health practitioners spend scraping through unstructured medical text, such as medical notes, prescriptions, audio interview transcripts, and pathology and radiology reports. Gross.

Whether you are a health practitioner or a personal injury attorney, you know damn well that pulling out the necessary information is an extremely tedious and time-consuming process. Why? You’re doing it manually, and often, this process requires highly-skilled medical experts or a development team writing custom code and rules in efforts to extract the information automatically.

Don’t Forget ‘Amazon Care’

And don’t forget about Amazon Care, a service that allows Amazon employees to take advantage of virtual doctor consultations and in-home follow-ups.

Building upon that technology comes Tuesday’s AWS re:Invent announcement—Amazon Transcribe Medical—a machine-learning service that makes it easy to quickly create accurate transcriptions from medical consultations between patients and physicians.

Combining the technology of Comprehend Medical with Transcribe Medical, allows for a fully-functional system of recording, transcribing, and extracting the necessary information for patient care.

Meet The New Way to Scrape Medical Data: TRANSCRIBE MEDICAL
Grit Daily covers AWS’ new announcement at AWS re:Invent 2019 talking Amazon Transcribe Medical

So how does Transcribe Medical work?

The medical and pharmacological terms used in physician dictated notes, practitioner/patient consultations, and tele-medicine are automatically converted from speech to text for use in clinical documentation applications.

Remember the dictation program Dragon Naturally Speaking? When it first launched 22 years ago, back in June 1997, that technology was way ahead of its time, but had a major issue—inaccurate automatic speech recognition (ASR). However, it set a bar so high that other competitors didn’t dare compete, and arguably today, still have difficulty competing.

Well, with Transcribe Medical, AWS believes this can provide highly accurate ASR for the medical industry. The problem is that providing accurate medical transcriptions are expensive, time-consuming, or are disruptive to the patient experience.

In many hospitals and clinics, physicians will use a recorder to dictate notes that are sent to a third-party who manually transcribe the voice file, another expensive and time-consuming process that takes multiple days to complete. Others still use (unfortunately) human scribes which presents one serious issue—human error.

Our overarching goal is to free up the doctor, so they have more attention going to where it should be directed,” said Matt Wood, vice president of artificial intelligence at AWS. “And that’s to the patient.”

But Are You Sure It’s Ready for HIPAA?

For us in the legal industry, this could be a huge time (and cost) saver to those attorneys who practice plaintiff’s personal injury and medical malpractice. Why? All they do is tear apart medical records—to the tee.

Additionally, another legal concern involves an even biggest concern–is it ready to tackle the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)?

In an interview with CNBC, Wood indicated the service is fully compliant with HIPAA, which governs the use of a patient’s electronic health information (EHI).

However, it’s clear that Amazon will have to soar past the minimal compliance requirements of HIPAA to ensure that privacy enthusiasts, lawmakers, and regulators are satisfied with how AWS is using this tool in the medical field.

Time to Update HIPAA As We Approach 2020

The medical field is one industry that unfortunately doesn’t have much guidance with respect to today’s digital age, especially pertaining to how medical records are handled.

HIPAA, enacted in 1996, hasn’t been updated in over 6 years (2013), and unfortunately, doesn’t provide much guidance on how healthcare companies should encrypt and protect digital medical records. Another instance where the law still needs to seriously catch up with technology. Especially now that California has it’s Privacy Protection Act coming into effect in January.

One report indicated the need for HIPAA to be modernized and updated to today’s age of smart technology and privacy adjustments. In a joint investigation by ProPublica and German public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk, it was discovered that over 5 million patient records were freely accessible to anyone who had access to the internet. These records included medical images such as X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans.

We identified 187 servers—computers that are used to store and retrieve medical data—in the U.S. that were unprotected by passwords or basic security precautions. The computer systems, from Florida to California, are used in doctors’ offices, medical-imaging centers and mobile X-ray services.” In some instances, the name, birthday, AND social security numbers were visible—a clear and complete violation of HIPAA.

As the investigation continued, these were only several “insecure servers” that added to a terrifying, growing list of medical records systems that have been compromised. But this was irrelevant to the investigation, and one cybersecurity firm agreed.

It’s not even hacking. It’s walking into an open door,” Jackie Singh, a cyber-security researcher and chief executive of the consulting firm Spyglass Security.”

At the end of the day, one thing is clear—Amazon does not want to end up in the same hot-seat that other tech giants like Facebook and Google have been in with respect to their data collection habits. This is one technology that could be generation-changing, if the company is extremely clear on how the data will be collected, used, and ultimately, who will have access to it.

A step in the right direction, but the company is about to walk on a surface covered in glass and eggshells.

Andrew "Drew" Rossow is a former contract editor at Grit Daily.

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