Hospitals' Facebook ratings may reflect quality of care

Score one more for the power of social media: Patients' Facebook ratings of hospitals appear to correlate with a widely used metric of care quality, a new study found.

The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, compared how 4,800 U.S. hospitals rated on Facebook's five-star scale with their 30-day readmission rates, as reported by Medicaid's Hospital Compare website. After controlling for hospital size and type, researchers found that the average Facebook rating was higher for hospitals with lower than average readmission rates, while hospitals with the highest readmission rates received fewer stars from Facebook users.

"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," lead study author McKinley Glover, M.D., a clinical fellow in the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Radiology, said in an announcement. She added that "hospitals and healthcare leaders should not underestimate social media's value in developing quality improvement programs."

The use of social media has long been recognized as a powerful tool for health systems to engage patients and the community, and many patients use online tools to choose their healthcare providers, FierceHealthcare has reported. But while a large majority of U.S. hospitals have Facebook and Yelp pages, Twitter accounts and check-ins on Foursquare, many don't make the most of these platforms because they use them more often to engage employees than patients.

Thus the findings of the Facebook-readmissions study should serve as a wakeup call to hospitals that have yet to maximize the potential of online engagement, Glover said.

"Hospitals should be aware that social media ratings may influence patient perceptions of hospitals and potentially their healthcare choices," she said. "Hospitals and other healthcare organizations should also be aware of the potential message they send by not using social media."

To learn more:
- check out the study abstract
- read the announcement