Prof explores use of voice recognition in healthcare

Joseph Lyons, assistant professor of Health Professions at Youngstown State University, works with a student on voice recognition technology in the healthcare industry.

Joseph Lyons, assistant professor of Health Professions, and sophomore Chris Palmer, one of the students who is helping Lyons with research on voice recognition technology in the healthcare industry.

With ever-burgeoning smart phone and tablet technology, it is almost unfathomable that medical records are still predominantly in paper format. One YSU professor is determined to change that by conducting a new research project on voice recognition technology.

Joseph Lyons, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Professions, was recruited by YSU last fall for his expertise in health informatics –  the specialty study of computer information systems and their influence on the delivery of care. His focus is to develop courses in the areas of healthcare administration and health information systems.

“We need to build an information super-highway for healthcare,” said Lyons, who has more than 20 years of experience in the field of informatics. “In this day and age where there is a computer on every desk and a phone in every hand, there should be access to any patient’s medical information – anytime, anywhere.”

That is the vision of Lyons’ new research project, which will be in a controlled, laboratory setting on the third floor computer lab in Cushwa Hall. Lyons will involve five undergraduate or graduate student volunteers with the goal of teaching them to use voice recognition software to study the variances among age, sex and culture. Sophomore music major Chris Palmer has been hired to assist Lyons 10 hours a week in the voice recognition lab.

The term “voice recognition” refers to recognition systems that must be trained to a particular speaker – as is the case for most desktop software. The user’s audible input can then be converted directly into text.

“I specifically want to see the student’s take on it,” said Lyons, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Bloomsburg University, master’s at Penn State and a doctorate of science from Johns Hopkins University. “After the students have gotten good with the software, I want to introduce a medical dictionary and database for them to work with.”

Despite the wild popularity of Apple’s new iPhone assistant, Siri, the adoption of voice recognition has somewhat lagged behind technical development, especially in the healthcare industry.

“Across the country, the major hospitals have spent enormous amounts of money on their paper system,” Lyons said. “I want to study why every hospital in the country is not using voice recognition, because we know it’s going to save time and money – and it’s going to be more accurate.”

He said that more than 300 hospitals nationwide have implemented voice recognition software and integrated it into the electronic medical record. Why haven’t the others adopted the technology? Lyons speculates the problem is not the voice technology itself, which he admits can be “frustrating to use.” It is the people and the learning curve involved with the new technology.

“Part of the problem is learning the technology,” he said. “Physicians are overburdened. The technology is marvelous, but it is omnipresent; no one wants to be a slave to a machine.”

Lyons; Joe Mosca, dean of the Bitonte College of Health and Human Services; Joe Mistovich, professor and chair of the Department of Health Professions; and Sal Sanders, associate professor and director of the Allied Health program and the Masters in Health and Human Services; plan to meet with local hospital administrators to discuss the voice recognition studies and a possible new YSU program in Health Informatics and Health Care Administration

“As we move along, we want to be able to use this technology to ultimately improve care,” Lyons said.

Lyons and Palmer are interested in getting student volunteers to use the voice recognition software and report on their findings, likes and dislikes. Students interested in volunteering for the research project should contact Lyons at jplyons@ysu.edu.

Story by Robert Merz