A new study published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine finds 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.

“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,” said lead author McKinley Glover, M.D., a clinical fellow in the Massachusetts General Hospital 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.”

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While few studies have examined the relationship between social media and measures of healthcare quality, consumers’ healthcare decisions may be influenced by information posted to social media sites by patients and others, the study authors noted. Since few consumers are aware of established sources of information on hospitals’ quality of care and outcomes, social media may be a valuable way for institutions both to assess and to share information about patient satisfaction and care quality. 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, and the current study was designed to compare hospitals’ 30-day readmission rates with their Facebook ratings.

The investigators began by analyzing data available from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Hospital Compare website on 30-day readmission rates for 4,800 U.S. hospitals. While more than 80 percent had rates within the expected national average range, 7 percent had significantly lower-than-average readmission rates, and 8 percent had rates that were significantly higher than average. There were no significant differences between the low- and high-readmission hospitals in terms of size, number of admissions, expenses and whether they were non-profit or for-profit, although major teaching hospitals were more likely to be high-readmission hospitals.

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. Comparison between the two groups revealed that each one-star increase in a hospital’s Facebook rating was associated with 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 – including 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 differ between the low- and high-readmission groups.

“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,” Glover said. “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 healthcare decisions.”

The study is available here.

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