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Google Will Soon Be Able to Read Your Messy Handwriting


Google recently announced it is working with pharmacists to create an AI that can interpret especially hard-to-read handwriting, which doctors are often accused of having.

Handwritten medical notes still play a valuable role in the healthcare industry, especially when it comes to prescription medication. While many practices and providers have switched over to electronic health records, many facilities still use good old-fashioned pen and paper when adding information to a patient’s chart. Uploading the contents of the note into the EHR system can be next to impossible if the doctor’s handwriting isn’t legible. If you’ve ever tried to decode what looks like a chicken scratch, you’re not alone.

Google demonstrated the AI’s capabilities at an annual tech conference in India, but Dr. Manish Gupta, director of research at Google India, said “much work still remains to be done before the system is ready for the real world.”

During the demonstration, the presenters illustrated how users can take a photo of their prescription and upload it to the tool for processing. The AI will automatically highlight any medications included in the note.

Google didn’t specify the launch date, but the product is expected to be a part of Google Lens, an AI tool that can translate different languages and recognize different objects, currently available in the search bar of the Google app.

“This will act as an assistive technology for digitizing handwritten medical documents by augmenting the humans in the loop such as pharmacists, however no decision will be made solely based on the output provided by this technology,” the company said in a blog post.

Messy handwriting in the medical field can be a major concern. According to a 2006 study from the National Academies of Science’s Institute of Medicine, some 7,000 people are killed every year due to illegible handwriting from doctors. And some 1.5 million Americans are injured from mistakes with their prescription medication.

But the stigma that doctors’ handwriting is any worse than anyone else’s is a myth. A 1996 study published in the National Library of Medicine found no difference in the handwriting of doctors compared to non-doctors.

“This study fails to support the conventional wisdom that doctors’ handwriting is worse than others’,” the study’s authors concluded. “Illegible writing is, however, an important cause of waste and hazard in medical care, but efforts to improve the safety and efficiency of written communication must approach the problem systematically — and assume that the problems are in inherent in average human writing-rather than treating doctors as if they were a special subpopulation.”

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