Hospital ratings on social media correlate with traditionally accepted measures of hospital quality, such as 30-day readmission rates, according to a recent study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).
Led by radiologists Dr. McKinley Glover and Dr. Garry Choy, the MGH team analyzed data available from Hospital Compare on 30-day readmission rates. Hospitals with lower rates of 30-day, hospital-wide, unplanned readmissions (HWR) as reported by Hospital Compare were more likely to have higher ratings on Facebook than hospitals with higher readmission rates. Interestingly, there was no correlation between the number of likes on a Facebook page and HWRs.
According to the article published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine,
These findings add support to the small but growing body of literature suggesting that unsolicited feedback on social media and hospital ratings sites corresponds to patient satisfaction and objective measures of hospital quality. This is important as social media ratings may have an impact on patient decision making – patients are often more aware of social media rankings than they are of more traditional ratings based on quality metrics.
Majority of Hospitals Have Facebook Pages
The study suggests that most hospitals find value in maintaining a presence on social media. Of the nearly 700 hospitals included in this study, 88% had Facebook pages. Hospitals with low HWRs were more likely to have Facebook pages than hospitals with high HWRs. This may be because hospitals with higher readmission rates may have more at stake in allowing public feedback.
Ratings from One Source May Not Tell the Whole Story
One significant finding of this analysis is that major teaching hospitals are 14.3x more likely to have higher-than-average HWRs. This could speak to the number of complex cases with multiple comorbidities performed at these institutions, which may make comparisons based on HWR or mortality unfair.
If a smaller hospital refers the most complex surgeries to larger institutions that tend to house the most well-known surgeons, that smaller hospital is no longer responsible for readmissions or deaths. Is this fair? Are we comparing apples to oranges here?
Even the ratings companies themselves don’t agree.
A recent study compared the high and low performers in each of the four major US rating services (i.e., U.S. News & World Report, Consumer Reports, the Leapfrog Group, and Healthgrades). Researchers found that no hospital was rated as a high performer by all four national rating systems. This could be explained by the fact that each rating services uses its own rating system.
This doesn’t necessarily mean one rating system is bogus, but perhaps that consumers should look at scores from different systems when making healthcare decisions. The NYT notes:
Not all of the studies are looking for the same quality and outcomes metrics, and shouldn’t be expected to overlap necessarily.
According to Steve Sternberg, deputy health rankings editor at U.S. News & World Report,
Hospital rankings and ratings shouldn’t be expected to tell one story; they provide different perspectives on hospital care.
Additionally, quality scores may not factor into a patient’s hospital choice.
Researchers from the Imperial College of London compared hospital administration data with quality scores gleaned from maternity surveys. "Our findings indicate that public reporting of the quality of maternity services in England in 2008, which received widespread coverage in the media, had no significant impact on utilization or perceived quality of services," Laverty and coauthors write.
Sentiment Analytics in Healthcare
In an age in which consumers share their opinions and experiences of brands through a social media megaphone, the correlation between more traditional quality measures and Facebook ratings might be reassuring to healthcare decision makers. Co-author of the MGH study Dr. Choy states,
As we embrace data analytics to better drive how we deliver care at a systems level, this study shows there is opportunity and significant value in sentiment analysis – the use of social media data to track public opinion – as it pertains to health care.
Dr. Glover encourages cautions:
Hospitals should be aware that social media ratings may influence patient perceptions of hospitals and potentially their health care choices. Hospitals and other healthcare organizations should also be aware of the potential message they send by not using social media. Members of the general public should be encouraged to provide accurate feedback on their health care experiences via social media, but should not rely solely on such ratings to make their health care decisions.