Industry Voices—Clinical data registries can be a powerful tool for managing a hospital's reputation

Patients are commonly associating a hospital’s reputation with its quality of care—basically saying the two are one and the same. (Getty/sudok1)

While the need to manage organizational reputation is not a new concept to hospital leaders, it commands more attention now than ever before.

Patients today have ready access to hospital performance information and rankings from numerous sources. At the same time, multiple insurance and payment options including out-of-network selections and health savings accounts offer more flexibility in choosing where to go for care.

Amid this empowered healthcare consumer movement, hospitals must pursue a deliberate strategy for managing their public image—and a powerful tool for doing so is inpatient clinical data registries.

Search "best hospitals” on the internet, and the top results include rankings and rating sources like U.S. News & World Report’s (USNWR) Best Hospitals, Healthgrades and even Yelp. Word of mouth, awards, rankings, reviews and accreditations all play into a facility’s reputation. How these different elements coalesce into a public image is a complex equation, but underlying each of them is a measurement or perception of quality of care, patient satisfaction or both.

RELATED: Industry Voices—The value of registries goes beyond quality. Cost savings is one potential benefit

When managed effectively, registries are uniquely situated to assess and improve care quality in an ongoing, real-time manner and therefore can be leveraged to bolster reputation management. And with the average U.S. healthcare facility participating in five to 10 of these programs, they exist right under hospitals’ proverbial noses!

Quality = Reputation

There is mounting evidence that reputation is increasingly important to those deciding who to see and where to go for their healthcare.

For example, a 2018 Deloitte survey found more healthcare consumers are using quality ratings than in previous years. Also, patients are commonly associating a hospital’s reputation with its quality of care—basically saying the two are one and the same.

Inpatient clinical data registries are essentially databases that can be used to improve health outcomes of patients with particular diseases or conditions. These programs have a positive influence on healthcare outcomes, according to a systematic review of studies evaluating registries’ overall impact.

A great example of the link between registries and hospital reputation is the University of Utah Health. Based in Salt Lake City, U of U Health boasts 5,000 health care professionals across four hospitals and serves a referral area encompassing more than 10% of the continental United States. Its vascular surgery division is one of nearly 400 hospital departments and physician groups submitting case information to the Vascular Quality Initiative (VQI) registries, a major initiative of the Society for Vascular Surgery.

U of U Health uses VQI’s real-time feedback to improve its vascular surgical practices and processes. Overall, VQI participants experience lower lengths of stay and costs than other vascular patients.

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Today, the U of U Health vascular division is a three-star VQI participant—the highest rating of its kind. U of U Health consistently ranks among USNWR's Best Hospitals and has received the prestigious Quality Leadership Award from the University Health System Consortium for six consecutive years. It is an example of how incredibly strong the relationship between registries, care quality and reputation can be.

U of U Health also demonstrates a broader understanding of how reputation management and quality work together. One only needs to visit its website to get a sense of this—an entire section is devoted to the importance of transparency and availability of reliable quality and cost information.

Further, it features a New England Journal of Medicine perspective that begins with U of U Health’s CEO discussing, what else, but Yelp’s entrance into healthcare reviews.

Walking the Walk to Talk the Talk

Receiving regular quality reports that include the ability to benchmark performance against other facilities is a hallmark of registry participation. Essentially, registries can provide facilities with the data needed to both "walk the walk" and "talk the talk" when it comes to quality and marketing claims.

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For instance, the Society for Thoracic Surgeons (STS) hosts a program that allows participants in its cardiothoracic surgery registries to voluntarily report their surgical outcomes to the public. The program is known as the STS Public Reporting initiative. Its three-star ratings are touted by hospitals across the country—from Mountainview Hospital in Las Vegas to Stony Brook University Hospital in New York.

Most registries offer similar programs for comparing performance against other facilities in the same geographic region or within a medical specialty.

Quality + Cost = Value

Recent policy and regulatory efforts are pushing for healthcare price transparency nationwide—requiring hospitals, especially those serving Medicare beneficiaries, to publicly report their service charges online.

How much this will empower healthcare consumers is under debate, but it gives rise to a new-fashioned opportunity for facilities to highlight what they excel at. It also sets the stage for hospitals to come up with innovative ways of communicating this information.

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For example, Baylor Scott & White Health provides a cost estimation calculator collecting additional patient-specific details like location and insurance policy to provide more reliable cost estimates. Hospitals can take this idea a step further by including quality information with the price information they share. And they can look to registries for the quality information needed to complete this equation.

If quality really does directly correlate to reputation, then this additional approach to showcase excellence offers a true reputation management advantage for hospitals.

Taking a step back, determining how registry participation can best serve the entire organization begins at the top with those who instill organizational vision and inspiration, including the chief operating, medical and quality officers.

While discussions on how registries can bolster reputation management should involve clinical department heads and team members who are directly involved in running these programs, the resource alignment for it requires the highest-level support. In other words, an enterprise approach to registries is critical to realizing the full benefits of these programs. 

Treating registry participation as an enterprise decision is explored in greater detail in my previous FierceHealthcare Industry Voices piece on registries and cost savings.

Milton Silva-Craig is the chief executive officer of Q-Centrix. He has more than 25 years of experience in the healthcare information technology industry and has held executive positions at leading industry companies, including General Electric Medical Systems.