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Facebook as a proxy for hospital quality

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Facebook as a proxy for hospital quality

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Earlier in the year I had a bit of a grumble on the blog about the apparent fascination with Twitter after a report was released into social media usage in the UK National Health Service.

Despite the tremendous advances in areas such as telehealth, communities of support and practice, and even MOOCs, the report focused solely on the use of Twitter by healthcare providers.

I do like Twitter (really), but of all of the things that are useful to hospitals (and patients), I would say that is relatively low down the list.

Facebook is arguably even lower down, and yet it does at least appear to provide a useful signaling function.

I wrote a few years ago about a study that explored whether there was any parallel between the number of likes a hospital received on Facebook, and the happiness of patients.

The results were intriguing.  They found that every 93 extra likes correlated with a 1% fall in the mortality rate.  The researchers drew the conclusion that lower mortality rates equal higher patient satisfaction, which manifests itself in a higher number of likes on Facebook.

Whilst that was a proxy for the quality of a hospital, a more recent study set out to explore where explicit ratings provide an accurate reflection of the actual merits of that facility.

The study found that there was a strong correlation between the 5-star rating a hospital gets on Facebook and their performance in more widely-used metrics.

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

Facebook versus official figures

The researchers analyzed data on 30 day readmission rates from over 4,800 hospitals from the Hospital Compare website.

It emerged that roughly 80 percent of the hospitals had ratings in line with the national average, whilst 7 percent were quite a bit lower and 8 percent quite a bit higher.

On the surface, there was no tangible difference between the hospitals in the strong performing and low performing groups.  They had similar size, similar number of admissions, expenses and so on.

Alas, it emerged that the hospitals with low-readmission rates were more likely to be active on Facebook (93 percent vs 82 percent).  Just as in the previous study, a one star increase in their average rating on Facebook corresponded to a five-fold increase in the likelihood that re-admission rates would be low.

“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,” the authors say.

Is it a sign that hospital managers need to become more active on Facebook?  I’m far from convinced, and suspect there are many better uses of their time.  Nevertheless, it is grist for the mill.

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