Hospital Ratings on Social Media May Reflect True Quality of Care

A new study has found a correlation between how hospitals are rated on Facebook’s five-star system and how well they performed on a widely-used measure of quality care.

Late in 2013, Facebook began providing organizations the option of allowing users to post ratings ranging from one to five stars on their official Facebook pages. The current study was designed to compare hospitals’ 30-day readmission rates with their Facebook ratings.

“We found that the hospitals in which patients were less likely to have unplanned readmissions within the 30 days after discharge had higher Facebook ratings than were those with higher readmission rates,” says lead author McKinley Glover, M.D., MHS, a clinical fellow in the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Department of Radiology.

“Since user-generated social media feedback appears to be reflective of patient outcomes, hospitals and healthcare leaders should not underestimate social media’s value in developing quality improvement programs.”

As the use of social media has grown, consumers’ health care decisions may be influenced by information posted to social media sites by patients and others, the authors note. Several hospitals and healthcare organizations use social media for a variety of reasons, but there has been little investigation into whether hospitals ratings on social media accurately reflect patient satisfaction or the quality of care received.

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from Hospital Compare — a website sponsored by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services — on 30-day readmission rates for 4,800 U.S. hospitals. While more than 80 percent had rates within the expected national average range, seven percent had significantly lower-than-average readmission rates — a measure that reflects above-average care — and eight percent had rates that were significantly higher than average.

Low-readmission hospitals were more likely to have Facebook pages than were high-readmission hospitals — 93 percent versus 82 percent — and more than 80 percent of those in both groups with Facebook pages provided the five-star rating system. The findings showed that each one-star increase in a hospital’s Facebook rating was tied to a greater than five-fold increase in the likelihood that it would have a low, rather than a high readmission rate.

Other data available on hospital Facebook pages — such as the number of times users reported visiting the hospital, how long a hospital’s Facebook page had been available, and the number of Facebook ‘likes’ — did not make a difference in readmission rates.

“While we can’t say conclusively that social media ratings are fully representative of the actual quality of care, this research adds support to the idea that social media has quantitative value in assessing the areas of patient satisfaction — something we are hoping to study next — and other quality outcomes,” says Glover.

“Hospitals should be aware that social media ratings may influence patient perceptions of hospitals and potentially their healthcare 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 healthcare experiences via social media, but should not rely solely on such ratings to make their health care decisions.”

The study is published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Source: Massachusetts General Hospital