Providence bets on machine-learning, consolidating data centers

Providence will lean on technology to help recover from the financial damage the COVID-19 pandemic wrought on the Renton, Wash.-based health system, according to it management team speaking at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

At the end of Providence’s most recent third quarter on Sept. 30, the health system recorded a $214 million operating loss, with a decline in patient admissions and increase in labor costs impacting its 54 hospitals and more than 1,000 medical clinics.

Over the next two years, interim Chief Financial Officer Greg Hoffman said the health system plans to close its six data centers—it closed one in 2020—as well as migrate its entire health system to a single Epic electronic health record and enterprise resource planning back-office tool.

By centralizing this information, Hoffman also aims to automate back-office systems and use machine learning to monitor provider schedules to reduce burnout. Providence has already started using predictive analytics to inform its hiring. “When we know that there’s a certain attrition rate, let’s get out ahead of it and not wait for somebody to leave and begin the hiring process,” Hoffman said.

He added that the company’s clinical academy has been a great source of talent as well. As more patients transition to telehealth, Chief Clinical Officer Amy Compton-Phillips said the academy will help ease staffing pressure at the health system. Providence officials conducted 1.7 million telehealth visits in 2020.

Providence’s predictive analytics platform helped it accurately predict what areas would receive a surge in cases up to two weeks out. Once the health system got a better handle on the data, it was able to shift resources to respond to a suspected increase in caseloads. As an example, Compton-Phillips said that in the spring treating 400 coronavirus patients forced the entire system to shut down. “Now, we’re up to over 2500 patients with COVID, and we’re cooking along and taking care of the community,” Compton-Phillips said.

CEO Rod Hochman said the health system’s future will depend on diversifying its portfolio, digitizing its systems and new partnerships—along with closely watching workforce costs.

“Coming out of COVID, we learned virtualization of both administration and clinical care is an opportunity to rethink how we use labor effectively,” Hochman said. “We clearly understand that unless health systems are able to reduce labor spend we’re not going to be successful.”

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