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  • Writer's pictureBruce Cummings

Getting it Right: Providence Health Using AI to Promote More Flexible Work Schedules

Updated: May 13

Hospital personnel consistently rank "more flexible work schedules" and "better work-life balance" as among their top-rated issues. These same desires are also, no surprise, strongly correlated with retention and with burnout. Organizations which place a premium on promoting work-life balance and/or flexible work schedules have better rates of staff retention and less burnout; conversely, employers which pay little or no attention to those desired attributes have more physician turnover and greater rates of burnout.

So I read with interest a recent news brief by Dave Fornell (HealthExec, September 25) profiling Natalie Edgeworth, senior manager, Workforce Optimization and Innovation, at Providence Health System.

Under Ms. Edgeworth's direction, Providence has developed a homegrown, AI-enabled staffing algorithm which was created for the express purpose of fostering greater flexibility in work schedules throughout its 52 hospitals and 40 service lines across 7 different states.

A Textbook Example of Excellent Healthcare Leadership Qualities and Practices

My enthusiasm for this effort is not because it relies on machine learning -- indeed, in the interest of full disclosure, I have not seen a demonstration of the scheduling solution -- but rather because Providence's approach is a textbook example of the leadership qualities and practices which my Organizational Wellbeing Solutions colleague Paul DeChant, MD, MBA and I routinely recommend to hospital and health system leaders.

Specifically among the things Providence gets right are --

  • developing a solution directly in response to the expressed concerns and interests of front-line staff (ie, for more flexible work schedules and greater work-life balance)

  • involving front-line staff in the design and testing of the solution

  • making it easier for clinical staff to work at the top of their license, thereby increasing job satisfaction

  • reducing unnecessary or wasted time and effort by managers manually creating, amending, and tracking staff work schedules (a reduction from between 4 and 20 hours of managers' time down to 15 minutes), thus freeing them up to focus more of their time on patient care and staff development -- precisely the activities which excite most clinical managers and add value to an organization

  • pursuing a people-centered approach that seeks to achieve better results at the same or lower cost

An Excellent Solution to a Healthcare Organization Problem

Again, the attraction here is not that Providence is using AI/MLto tackle a particular issue. Rather, it is the way the health system went about developing and deploying a solution in response to a problem vexing most healthcare organizations. Kudos to Providence and to Ms. Edgeworth and her team!

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