Google cracks down on doctors’ terrible handwriting

Medical schools don't teach calligraphy, but Google aims to concoct a cure for bad handwriting by doctors.

Google has offered a doctor’s note remedy. The tech giant is working on an artificial intelligence technology tool to decipher hard-to-read handwritten medical prescriptions, as announced at its annual Google for India conference on Monday and described in a business blog.

The feature will be part of Google Lens’ application library. The goal can already rate, copy and paste handwriting of real life in your phone or computer and automatically provide a supportive environment and information based on that text through its search capabilities. And the prescription decoding tool under development will work the same way. Users will be able to take or upload a photo of a doctor’s note, then the Lens app will process the image, detect the medications listed, and automatically offer information about those medications.

This might seem like a small step for Google Lens, which *technically* should have been able to read doctor scripts like any other text all this time. However, the doctor’s handwriting is really worse than most people’s after hours and hours of daily wear on their hands, and doctors often operate in unique shorthand. Plus, the stakes are much higher scanning a prescription than transferring a handwritten grocery list into a text note on your phone.

Handwritten prescriptions have caused countless headaches, and worse. They can lead to medication errors when pharmacists inevitably make mistakes trying to decode the enigmatic squiggles. And often the prescriptions themselves are flawed from the start and lack important patient information.

Hastily scribbled medical prescriptions have been a long-known (and jokingly) problem, and this isn’t the first time tech has tried to fix the problem. About 20 years ago, drugstore chains in the United States began test e-scripts (i.e. online prescribing systems) to take the pen and paper out of doctors entirely. And in many cases, electronic prescriptions have become the norm.

All but 10 states have current, pending, or future books law requiring medical providers to use electronic scripts, according to an analysis of MD Toolbox. In some states, such as New York, failure to comply with the requirement can result in fines or even jail time time. And the federal government mandates also that physicians who routinely prescribe controlled substances to patients on Medicare eschew handwritten scripts for digital scripts in most cases.

Yet handwritten commissions persist in the United States and are the dominant form of prescription elsewhere in the world. And there is many obstacles to medical digitization in India, where Google is piloting the feature.

Google described the ongoing product as the most useful for pharmacists and said pharmacist expertise was also key in training and developing the new technology. In a video clipa business executive explained to an audience the method a pharmacist uses to determine key points in a doctor’s note.

However, the technology is not quite ready for physician deployment yet. “While early results have been encouraging, there is still a lot of work to be done before this system is ready for the real world,” Manish Gupta, director of research at Google India, said during the presentation.

And the company says the prescription feature isn’t meant to replace human understanding. “It will act as an assistive technology to digitize handwritten medical documents by augmenting humans in the loop such as pharmacists, but no decision will be made solely based on the result provided by this technology,” the company said in a statement. at Tech Crunch.

Google didn’t immediately respond to Gizmodo’s questions about the tool or the timeline, and that’sIt is unclear whether the company plans to expand its prescription reading tool beyond India to other countries.

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