By Jenn Riggle
What would you do if your doctor handed you the results of a medical test and walked away?
Without a medical degree, the results would be jibberish, forcing you to either find someone else to interpret the information or turn to the Internet and try to make sense of it yourself.
The same is true with hospital quality data.
There are so many sources of quality data, including the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers & Systems (HCAHPS) scores on the Hospital Compare website, the Joint Commission’s QualityCheck.org, U.S. News Best Hospitals Rankings, RateMDs.com, AngiesList and organizations like the Leapfrog Group and HealthGrades.
There’s a lot of confusion about hospital quality because people don’t understand what hospital quality scores mean, let alone who to believe. According to a recent BNET article, part of the problem with quality data is that hospital ratings organizations use different methods for analyzing data and report on different measures. So while they’re all analyzing quality, they’re not comparing apples to apples.
One way to help put quality data into context is with social media.
Earlier this month, two physician-researchers made news when they published a commentary in the Journal of American Medical Association suggesting that CMS “provide the opportunity for all patients to share their inpatient experiences via a patient feedback function that could be added to the Hospital Compare” website. These comments would help put patient satisfaction data into context, similar to consumer websites like Amazon and Zappos.
Of course, this might be a little tricky. But the authors suggest that CMS could work with a third party to create a review process that would allow physicians and hospitals to respond to criticisms, remove inappropriate content and would only post reviews once a sufficient number have been obtained.
This being said, there are key takeaways for both the federal government and hospitals about how they can use social media to better communicate quality information:
Drive Traffic to Hospital Compare Website: The fact that according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, only 6 percent of Americans are familiar with the Hospital Compare website shows that CMS needs to do a better job driving people to the site – and social media and the Internet could play a pivotal role in making this happen. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did a great job using social media to educate people about the H1N1 virus. While quality data may be more technical, it could definitely benefit from a social media marketing approach.
Demand for Quality Data Isn’t Going Away: In fact, CMS is going to launch the “Physician Compare” website (similar to the Hospital Compare site) in January 2011. The site will post information about physicians enrolled in the Medicare program and those who participate in the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS). Again, for this site to be effective, people need to be aware of it.
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: While hospital quality scores are important, patient testimonials play a key role in showing how hospitals can change people’s lives. So don’t underestimate the power of patient testimonials in advertising and marketing materials and/or website. In addition, having an engaged Facebook community might also provide an opportunity to uncover some of these stories.