Informing and Engaging the Health Care Consumer

Added on Apr 10, 2018

hands (1)“Should we put provider reviews on our website?” Health care leaders are asking themselves this question with increasing frequency as they seek to develop consumer-focused strategies for improving the safety, quality and experience of care they offer.

For organizations that understand the importance of actively managing their online reputation, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Furthermore, recent research confirms that the alternative—letting Google searches fall as they may or allowing third-party online review sites to inform the narrative—can damage the health system’s brand by conveying information to consumers that is neither valid nor reliable.

Three independents studies—one each out of the University of Utah, the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, and the Mayo Clinic—demonstrate that significant discrepancies exist between the information that appears on third-party physician-review websites and the output from the validated patient experience surveys that are used to measure, report and improve outcomes that are meaningful to patients.

All three studies reach similar conclusions: commercial online physician-rating websites neither consistently nor accurately reflect patients’ experiences of care; they can misinform the consumers they purport to educate; and they can damage reputations.  

With respect to these third-party reviews, “the sample size is often small and the reviews may be biased, potentially creating an inaccurate and unfair reflection on a physician—often without the physician being aware,” R. Jay Widmer, M.D., PhD., and colleagues write in an article published online April 2018 in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. “Furthermore, these online physician reviews are unstructured and not systematically designed to thoroughly review the physician—patient interaction on the entire patient experience and journey. These reviews likely provide a consumer or patient searching online for health care services an incomplete depiction of the physician's reputation and his or her true commitment to and expertise in patient care.”

In contrast, organizations that host reviews on their own sites using the patient experience data they collect for benchmarking typically rely on established parameters for statistical validity (a minimum of 30 completed patient surveys in a 12-month period for each clinician is standard). In addition to their increased accuracy, reviews based on valid sample sizes are more likely to garner physician acceptance (and subsequent engagement in improvement efforts) and consistently lead to more favorable physician ratings than those computed from smaller samples. Finally, health care systems that voluntarily share physician-review data foster a spirit of trust with patients and the community.

Considering what’s at stake—patient loyalty and physician and health system reputation—the question for health care leaders to ponder is not “Should we put provider reviews on our website?” Instead, they should be asking themselves, “How can we not?”