Privacy and Security in AI: Interview with Practice Better’s CTO

December 13, 2023

No matter how the world feels about it, Generative AI is here. AI can help diagnose disease, reduce errors in medication dosages, read X-rays, and improve population-based preventative healthcare measures. Healthcare consumers, and likely your clients, are turning to ChatGPT to answer their questions, too. 

But what does this mean for a health and wellness practitioner like you? 

While the benefits of this tool are many, a responsible practitioner like yourself might have questions about its use:

  • Should you use AI in practice?
  • What are the benefits and risks of using AI in your practice?
  • Can you use AI tools in a HIPAA-compliant way?

To learn more about AI and how it’s incorporated into Practice Better’s AI Charting Assistant, we checked in with Graeme Downes, Practice Better’s co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, to learn more about the process he went through to vet AI features and functions for the Practice Better community. He fills us in on the key features of Practice Better’s AI Charting Assistant and the thought process behind its development.

Expanding access to AI technology for wellness professionals

While AI used to be a fairly inaccessible and complicated technology, generative AI has brought the technology into everyone’s hands. Graeme explains that the goal was to bring AI tools to practitioners and make AI accessible in their day-to-day work.

“It’s not like in the past where you hear about AI, and it’s very dense and obscure and you didn’t really understand how it could be used in your day-to-day life. Now, I think we’ve reached a point in society where these tools are having a meaningful impact on people’s lives.”

If you’re a clinician who wants to have a positive impact on your clients’ lives, you can already sense that generative AI is a tool that can help you increase your impact. And it can. During the early testing phase of Practice Better’s AI Charting Assistant, practitioners saw their note-taking time decrease by half, freeing them to focus more on their client conversations instead.

Freeing up time for more clients or to start a program

Integrating AI into the platform means that Graeme and Practice Better can help you simplify more administrative tasks and enable better practitioner-client communications. If you can decrease the amount of time you spend on administrative tasks, it means you can dedicate more time to taking on more clients, or even launching your first or next online course. All that adds up to the ability to scale your practice and help more clients live healthier lives.

Many practitioners in the Practice Better community mentioned they’re already using AI to help build their content, but few have started to take advantage of AI in their clinical practice. But now Practice Better’s AI Charting Assistant can summarize your telehealth sessions for you, so you can focus on your clients, not on your notes. 

Ensuring privacy and safety

One of the primary concerns surrounding AI in healthcare is the security and privacy of client and patient data. This topic was paramount for Graeme and the Practice Better team. For Graeme, when it came to privacy and AI, “the one thing that we thought about when we went into picking a tool and picking a use case to solve, is how is this thing being trained and who has access to it?”

These questions are incredibly important to our community of health and wellness practitioners, too. Graeme explains how Practice Better took extensive measures to prioritize data security. The team worked closely with our legal team to identify the most reputable vendors with secure and reliable AI technologies. Graeme said he needed to feel very confident in moving forward knowing that our customer data was fully safe and secure.

Practice Better’s commitment to data protection extends to customer data and its own internal data. Customer and client data is strictly used for the intended purpose — healthcare — and is never sold to third parties. Graeme takes the commitment to HIPAA compliance very seriously.  

“The data that we’re storing and using to provide this summary feature isn’t being used to train other models; it’s not being sold to a marketing company. This data is strictly being used for the purpose of helping the practitioner do their work better.”

So if customer and client data isn’t being used to train the AI tools, how does the model learn and stay accurate so you can ensure that your AI summaries are accurate? 

Training data and model transparency: Responsible AI 

A common question in AI is how training data is obtained. Graeme says that no client data will be used to train models for Practice Better’s AI tool. 

“There’s already data in place — vendors of large data sets that we’re working with. But rest assured that your data, whenever you’re doing a Telehealth session is not used to inform the Telehealth session of another customer.” 

In other words, your client data stays locked in your client notes and doesn’t enter the pool of data used to generate the AI Charting Assistant’s summaries. The vendors providing the AI technologies have their own database of training data, which is separate from client data generated within the platform. While the training data sources may include open data sets, the client-specific data remains confidential, secure, and HIPAA-compliant. 

The black box of AI and results expectations

Another concern about Generative AI is its opacity. If you don’t understand how AI models generate results it’s easy to be skeptical about it, especially given that AI models have been accused of embedding and exacerbating existing biases and social inequities in medicine

Graeme acknowledges these concerns and emphasizes the importance of Practice Better’s framework for monitoring and auditing the outputs of the AI model. He says he and the team developed a framework for testing, auditing, and actioning some of the feedback they got through the beta process. So that’s helping inform the accuracy and the quality of the data to meet the needs of our customers.

The goal is to limit the model’s creativity and produce results that align with health and wellness practitioners’ expectations. As Practice Better explores more advanced use cases, the focus on understanding AI outputs will only grow stronger. 

The role of AI in clinical decision support

Shifting the conversation to the application of AI in clinical decision support, Graeme emphasizes that AI is designed to assist practitioners, not replace them. Just as Practice Better has instituted its own Responsible Use Guidelines for AI, Graeme cautions that health and wellness practitioners should be mindful of how they’re using generative AI in their practice.

“AI, of course, is not one hundred percent accurate. So what we do suggest, if you’re going to be using it, you need to review what’s being provided by AI, and make sure that if you’re making any clinical decisions, that you keep in mind that this is not the sole basis for you to make those decisions. You also need to have input into what you’re providing your clients at the end of the day.”

The combination of human expertise and AI support can lead to more effective diagnoses, treatment plans, and overall care for clients. The aim is not to undermine practitioners’ control, but to enhance their skill and efficiency. Our beta testers loved the fact that they felt they could truly be present for their clients instead of worrying about writing down everything they said.

Beyond saving time

Have you ever discussed an action item with a client, only to forget to put it in their plan later? You’re not alone. Beta testers of the AI Charting Assistant said that “things that they might have forgotten during this session and were able to easily pull out and share without having to jot them down during the session.” They said they found the tool dramatically reduced the time they spent on note-taking, improving their ability to focus on their client during sessions, and providing actionable insights to them.

Practice Better’s AI tool transcribes sessions, creates clear session summaries, and captures action items to support clients between sessions. Summaries are available in three formats: narrative, bullet-point, and SOAP notes, so you can choose how you prefer to take notes. 

Graeme says that time saved from note-taking — which can take almost as much additional time as the session itself — can help practitioners “maybe work on that program that they were trying to launch forever, those kinds of things I think really ought to be factoring when you think about a tool like this which has a lot of merit in terms of both time-saving and time creation.”

Using the AI Charting Assistant during sessions

Just as when you’re adopting any new tool in your daily work, using AI takes some practice. Many testers of the AI Charting Assistant said that it was difficult for them to stop taking notes at first since note-taking during a client session was such an engrained habit with them. They said it would take time to trust that they could stop taking notes and let the tool do it for them.

Graeme believes that with time, practitioners will create new routines and systems using the AI Charting Assistant. He saw that after most testers worked with the AI Charting Assistant for a few sessions, they were able to stop taking manual notes and just focus on the client session, which was the goal.

Helping clients understand AI

Some wellness professionals may worry about their clients feeling uncomfortable using AI with their practitioner. It’s important to prioritize informed consent between you and your clients, just like you would with any treatment plan. But Graeme says that from a client perspective, education is the key.  

“if you know that your practitioner’s going to give you a more informed and useful piece of advice, then that makes it easier for you to understand and feel accepting of the technology.”

Early users of the AI Charting Assistant reported their clients readily agreed to the use of AI tools and quickly saw how it led to more client-centered care. With more studies emerging touting the successes and superiority of AI-enhanced healthcare, more clients are likely to agree with them.

The future of AI at Practice Better

The AI Charting Assistant is just the beginning of AI tools at Practice Better. You can expect to see more great features to increase your efficiency. Graeme says the beauty of AI lies in its ability to “solve problems that you don’t even know exist.” 

Of course, using AI comes with its own set of responsibilities. Everyone using AI — from the software companies that build with it to the clients and practitioners who benefit from it — should be fully aware of its risks and benefits. AI may provide unprecedented power and productivity, but it will never replace the core work of a human practitioner. By prioritizing security, privacy, and practitioners’ needs, we can all benefit from AI tools that streamline our workflows, improve client communication, and save us all valuable time.

Practice Better is the complete practice management platform for nutritionists, dietitians, and wellness professionals. Streamline your practice and begin your 14-day free trial today.

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