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Most Interesting Vendors 2016: Nuance Communications: The Power of Clinical Language

May 24, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Nuance has earned its reputation on developing solutions that help accurately describe what is being done to the patient

This year, as in past years, Healthcare Informatics has designated three vendor companies in healthcare IT as “Most Interesting Vendors,” and is featuring profiles of those three companies in its Healthcare Informatics 100 issue, which this year is our May/June issue. The “Most Interesting Vendor” designation is not an award, but simply a recognition. The trajectories of all three companies speak to some of the broader trends taking place in healthcare IT in general and in the healthcare IT vendor market, and are thus of interest to readers. Yesterday, we published the story of Leidos. In this second of three articles, we profile the Burlington, Mass.-based Nuance Communications.


Working professionals worldwide likely are familiar with Nuance Communication’s Dragon speech recognition technology, as the company’s long-standing flagship software allows for fast dictation that can be applicable across several industries. In healthcare alone, a recent KLAS Research study found that nine in 10 providers plan to expand the use of speech recognition technology.

Indeed, senior executives at the Burlington, Mass.-based Nuance, a provider of voice and language solutions for businesses and consumers around the world, with nearly 10,000 healthcare technology-related employees, are well aware that most people know the vendor as a speech technology company. At a basic level that’s fine, says Peter Durlach, Nuance’s senior vice president of marketing, product management and strategy, noting the company’s physician-centric approach, as doctors are who the legacy products are designed to work for. “They are the ones who drive the quality of care delivered, along with the rest of the care team, as well as the economic viability of that institution. “We take pride in supporting those caregivers on the front line,” Durlach says.

But at a more granular level, inside and outside the walls of Nuance, the bar is being set higher, Durlach attests. No, developing voice dictation software is not what makes Nuance so special, he says. Rather, it’s about improving clinical documentation to drive better outcomes, be it clinical, financial, or quality, he says. “I understand why people know us a speech company, and it’s for good reason. But we are [about] more than that,” Durlach says.

Nuance’s solutions are built to capture documentation in any language, anywhere, on any device, for any care setting, Durlach says. “Our solutions are about what’s in the documentation to more accurately describe what is being done to the patient, how sick the patient is, or what set of clinical data can be extracted from that documentation,” Durlach says. “The [solutions] also allow you to share and communicate that information in the documentation for [various] reasons such as getting paid, for quality purposes, or to help with care delivery as patients move from care setting to care setting,” he says.

Peter Durlach

Nuance’s largest vertical is healthcare, in which it reported a revenue of nearly $1 billion in healthcare IT products and services earned in the U.S. in 2015—a figure that put the company 14th on the list of Healthcare Informatics’ 100 vendors with the highest health IT revenues. Within the last few months specifically, there are multiple areas Durlach points to within Nuance that illustrate the company’s noteworthy growth.

Indeed, he first points to the vendor being a large and growing clinical documentation improvement (CDI) business. In this bucket of solutions, Nuance has a new set of technologies for providing automated real-time clarifications for physicians when they’re documenting in the electronic health record (EHR). These products are broadly under the category computer-assisted physician documentation, Durlach says. “As the physician is documenting the case, we extract structured data out of that and we look at what else has been collected in the EHR, and we make adjustments,” he says. “It’s like having a virtual system in the EHR that’s providing real-time feedback to the physician, so the physician isn’t being pinged hours or days later.”

Regarding innovation around computer-assisted physician documentation, Durlach says, “The history of the patient and the thought process of the clinician is done in true narrative form which is what the doctors all want to do pretty much. It’s not just about the person documenting, but the next person in the care delivery process getting that information out of the EHR. That’s a huge pain point, and it’s something we attack to maintain the integrity and clarity of that narrative.”