Speech-recognition software company Nuance Communications acquired Saykara, a startup building a voice assistant for physicians. The deal is expected to bolster Nuance’s own healthcare efforts, as it pushes into hands-off documentation solutions.

Seattle-based Saykara was founded by Harjinder Sandhu, a former computer science professor. He sold a previous speech recognition startup, MedRemote, to Nuance and worked there for five years before starting his latest venture.

“I welcome the opportunity to rejoin the market leader in conversational AI and ambient clinical intelligence, and the impressive Nuance research and development team – especially at this important juncture in the development and adoption of these AI-powered healthcare innovations,” he said in a news release. “We are very familiar with Nuance’s advanced technology, domain expertise, and world-class technical team and share the company’s mission to make what matters to alleviate the clinical documentation burden on clinicians around the world.”

Saykara makes a voice assistant that can document some clinical encounters autonomously, meaning it can pick up and chart information from “listening” to conversations between a patient and physician. The company spent years training the system on thousands of clinical encounters to automatically chart orthopedics visits, and some common primary care cases, such as coughs and colds.

While other voice assistants are busy developing the clinical equivalents of Alexa or Siri, some still require physicians to click into the correct field in an EHR or use a wake word (such as “Hey Alexa”) before they can begin dictating notes, Sandhu said in a previous interview.

Joe Petro, Nuance’s executive vice president and CTO, said Saykara’s technology “aligns strongly with our technology portfolio and growth strategy as well as the needs of our clients.”

“This acquisition welcomes some familiar and highly respected technology leaders whom I am excited to have join our research and development team, which consists of the best and brightest minds in applying AI and machine learning to healthcare,” he said in a news release.

The deal should also feed into Nuance’s recent rollout of its Ambient Clinical Intelligence technology, which has a similar aim of eliminating mundane paperwork by automatically pulling information from a visit into patients’ records.  Physicians can also use the voice-based system for patient consent, document signing, and medication orders.

After announcing a pilot of the technology at HIMSS two years ago, Nuance has brought on new users, including Washington-based health system Providence.

Nuance’s stock closed at $49.10 on Tuesday. The companies did not disclose the terms of the deal.

Photo credit: iNueng, Getty Images

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