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SUKI & Soni

Punit Singh Soni sipped a latte in the Red Berry Cafe in Los Altos, California, brewing a plan. After an online marketing gig in India, he was ready to start a company from scratch. He had the U.S. healthcare system in his sights.

Doctors are the most stressed cog in the healthcare wheel, because of the time and complexity spent completing Electronic Medical Records Systems (EMRs). What if he (Soni) could save time, money and the healthcare system in one fell swoop by oiling the health system machinery?

Punit Soni, CEO of Suki. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Every Doctor Needs A Suki

Soni knew nothing of healthcare. His last stints were selling android phones, mobile apps, social networking, gaming, search technology and online retail.

But Soni was confident his product management experience gave him the expertise to identify and resolve issues – even in other industries.

“I am a general manager responsible for all aspects of product development including crafting strategy, building teams and executing to go-to market,” he said. “Surely I can identify a problem and work with users to address their pain point?”

Doctors Are Reluctant Adopters Of Technology

Doctors have been burned by EMRs, says Soni.

Electronic Medical Records Systems were supposed to digitize everything; instead doctors spend 2-3 hours a day just clicking and checking boxes. It’s made them reluctant to consider a new product.

Doctors are difficult customers, says Josh Gordon, author of Tough Calls: Selling Strategies to Win Over Your Most Difficult Customers. Society puts them on a pedestal. Physicians may be indifferent or combative, and may not see any value in speaking with salespeople or even learning a new product. 

Physicians see 30 to 40 people a day, but EMRs require more work from them, explained Soni.

“A simple vaccine shot takes five clicks and six statements to write.”

Doctors Have Become Data Entry Clerks

“Physicians went to medical school because they wanted to take care of people and not to write notes. We have taken the most incredible, most professional class in the country and converted them into data clerks.”

EMRs are making healthcare more costly and inefficient, he added. For every one doctor there are three administrative people. So, “decisions are sometimes being made for the wrong reasons by the wrong people.”

Why would physicians consider a new product that may fail them or worse, create liability issues? 

It comes down to trust, said Soni. 

Punit Soni, CEO of Suki, in his Redwood City, CA office. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

SUKI’s Value Proposition

Artificial Intelligence (AI) could revolution the EMR industry.

”Voice is today what mobile was five years ago” remarked Soni.

Voice technology, AI technology, speech modeling, speech recognition, accent detection is more sophisticated today. By marrying biology and computational technology, SUKI could reduce the time a doctor spends on documenting, prescribing orders, extracting information to send to the insurance companies, or overtime orders.

On average, doctors invest two hours on paperwork for every one hour with a patient. Voice enabled technology could save the most valuable resource in the healthcare system – a doctor’s time. 

Another benefit is revenue generation, which would increase two-fold if a doctor could see more patients in the time spent on regulatory data entry.

SUKI Is SIRI For Doctors

SUKI was envisioned to rethink healthcare technology and make it assistive and invisible.

So Soni teamed up with an ex-Oracle infrastructural engineer to create a business plan. They did it on the back of a Redberry napkin. The team presented their ‘Siri for doctors’ idea to Venrock, a leader in the field of healthcare investing. Bryan Roberts, probably the best healthcare investor in the U.S. saw value in SUKI, said Soni. With sophisticated command extraction, the plan was to drive voice activation across healthcare products and make them assistive. 

That first year, a group of clinicians and engineers built and tested the product. SUKI was ready the following year. Investors like Marc Benihoff and Venrock put more money in. The team built the compliance piece and deployed SUKI in clinics and hospitals. By the third year the company had revenue!! 

In the fourth year Covid hit!  

“It was unclear what was going to happen. As the end of fourth year rolled around the team found that SUKI had the best sales quarter it had ever had,” remembers Soni.

How Suki Works

SUKI learns a doctors preferences and speaking style so doctors can create an accurate note quickly by speaking naturally. Instead of 15 minutes, the doctor spends 20 seconds with 99.5 % accuracy. The doctor talks to the SUKI assistant to generate a note that is then fed into the EMR. Word speech recognition system is at industry standard. It is further enhanced with AI and machine learning. If the doctor uses a wrong word, AI kicks in to ensure no wrong command enters the system.

Transition from dictation to command and control to flexible command and control to ambient is flawless.

SUKI has the skill to help with common tasks like clinical documentation, diagnosis coding, and retrieving patient information from the EMR.  It also has capabilities to help with tasks like inbox management and filling out prescription details.

Will Startup Suki Live Or Die?

“There is always a time in a startup’s life when you wonder whether it will live or die? Then comes the stage of “how big will it be?”  Soni reflected.

“SUKI has crossed the first stage. We achieved 40 percent growth in the second year with the voice based digital assistant for clinicians and then another 70 percent on top of that once we offered our platform to companies, like Phillips, who could add SUKI’s voice to their products. We are in 600 locations, cover 30 specialties, and have a high number of patient encounters.

According to Soni, after the start up stage a company needs employees with different skill sets to further growth.

The right mix of talent at different stages of a startup’s development ensures it thrives.”

SUKI Has Competition

The last generation of dictation products like Nuance have been acquired by platforms like Google, Microsoft and Apple. At Circlebase, another company trying to solve clinician burnout in clinical trials,  co-founder Ritesh Kumar explains, “For us at Circlebase, contextual understanding of medical records, Natural Language processing of medical text, and the regulatory environment of clinical trials has only been possible due to the integrated team of  doctors, linguists and AI professionals working together.”

SUKI is next gen and a pure software product with no system of scribes at the backend typing the doctors notes into the system. SUKI costs $200 a month. The systems that use human scribes cost doctors $33,000 a year or $1500 a month.

At Redwood City, Soni’s offices are a beehive of activity. Between the teams in India and the US the company is working around the clock.  He says,

“Adoption rates are 70-72 percent. Usage has gone up 142 percent. In three years, I see the margins will flip and we will be cash positive. At the moment we are focused on growth.”

Ritu Marwah

Ritu Marwah is an award-winning author ✍️ and a recognized Bay Area leader in the field of 🏛 art and literature. A California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health...