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AWS this week unveiled a generative AI scribe for docs. The competition is fierce.

Amazon Web Services (AMZN) is launching a new medical tool to help doctors cut down on the time spent adding notes to patient records — a tedious task that often stretches doctors' hours through the evening.

The announcement on Wednesday, at the annual AWS Summit New York, signals another way the tech and e-commerce giant is focused on the healthcare space, but it is separate from the Amazon Health business.

AWS HealthScribe is the latest version of a transcription service the company already has on the market. What's new: The new model can summarize discussions, track multiple speakers, enter information into electronic health records, and pull out key medical information, such as terms and medications. Those are all things physicians and their staff have to do on their own if they're using basic transcription services or simply taking notes.

"Every sentence used in the AI-generated clinical notes comes with references to the original doctor-patient conversation transcripts, and the service does not retain any customer data after processing the customer [clinician's] request," AWS said in a statement.

The cost of the service is "substantially less" than the $30,000 to $50,000 per year it takes to hire a personal scribe — a common practice in many emergency rooms, for example.

That's according to Detlef Koll, vice president of global R&D at 3M (MMM) Health Information Systems and one of the first customers to use the AWS scribe tool. 3M provides medical devices to companies as well as health record management software. 3M and virtual health provider Babylon Health were at the Summit to promote the new tool.

The medical transcription software market has been growing steadily over the years along with the technology. It is projected to be a $190 billion market by 2032.

Swami Sivasubramanian, a VP at AWS, is shown on stage announcing the new HealthScribe product.
Swami Sivasubramanian, vice president of database, analytics, and machine learning at AWS, announces HealthScribe yesterday.

What are 'scribes'?

Scribes are commonly found in ERs as well as outpatient clinics, but Amazon's new tool is focusing on general medicine and orthopedics, areas of doctor shortages, the company said Wednesday.

"This is a scalability issue. If you put a scribe for every physician practice in the US, that would be too expensive," Koll said.

But if a transcription tool can automate the process at a lower price, it can save up to three hours of work per physician, Koll said.

HealthScribe was created using Amazon Bedrock, AWS's service to build generative AI-powered apps. It will respond to prompts by generating text, images, audio, and synthetic data — similar to OpenAI.

AWS has been building out its healthcare offerings. These include HealthLake, which allows medical organizations to store data and make it searchable; Imaging, which helps with storing and processing CT scans and the like; and Omics, which is geared to life sciences companies and stores and searches genomics data.

Tehsin Syed, general manager for Health AI at AWS, warned, however, that the technology, while impressive, is still developing. For example, summaries produced by HealthScribe are still reviewed by doctors, who can either accept or reject them.

"I don't think we're ready to hand anything off [completely to machines] at the moment," Syed told Yahoo Finance. "But we're much closer to very interesting and exciting experiences."

AWS HealthScribe
AWS HealthScribe

A new wave

Using a scribe in medicine isn't a new concept. It first came into existence in the mid-1990s. But it has since been slowly becoming more tech-enabled.

In a field crowded with startups, Big Tech is now a major player.

California-based ScribeAmerica is the only non-Big Tech player that is a major brand, with its proprietary software. It has been in the space for two decades and offers an AI tool, Speke, which also provides summaries of transcribed patient visits. Microsoft (MSFT) markets its Dragon Medical One through one of the biggest electronic health record (EHR) providers, Epic, giving it a market advantage. Oracle (ORCL) sells its Transcription tool through the other leading EHR provider, Cerner, which it acquired in 2021. Google's Cloud (GOOG) also offers a medical transcription product.

But the technology is still in its early days, and "we have to figure out how to deploy this technology in a responsible way so that we don't create operational risks for our customers, for health care organizations," 3M's Koll said.

Dr. Bill Fera, a principal at Deloitte, told Yahoo Finance that the space has been gaining momentum in the past three to four years. "I think now, with generative AI, it has become a real opportunity, and we see continued activity and explosion in this space," Fera said.

The three biggest hurdles to broader adoption are requiring physicians to review the summaries and transcriptions, the cost of the tools which can be prohibitive for smaller providers, and the silos created by tech companies, known as lack of interoperability, which has been an ongoing problem in the digital health space.

AWS's tool can plug into any system, Syed said, which could help the interoperability problem.

But there is still a learning curve. And what data is put into the systems that are learning and improving is paramount, said Vijay Kedar, CEO of healthtech startup Tomorrow Health.

"We need to ensure quality isn't compromised as these algorithms continue to learn and scale," he said.

Dr. Elliott Trotter, an emergency medicine physician in Texas, co-founded PhysAssist Medical Scribes in 1995, which was later acquired by ScribeAmerica in 2018 and has been dubbed the founder of the modern-day scribe.

He told Yahoo Finance that it is frustrating that in 2023 there still isn't a perfect solution available to make physicians' lives easier. It's why tech companies, some of which he says he is advising, should not forget to focus on the people as they continue to develop these capabilities.

"It's sort of been barely moving, that technology, for quite a while. Now we're at the precipice of it really taking off. So just really making sure that everyone knows where the potential downfalls are, and to think those processes through very carefully," he said.

Follow Anjalee Khemlani on Twitter @AnjKhem

Read the latest financial and business news from Yahoo Finance