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How Do Online Provider Review and Quality Care Scores Align?

A new report found that hospitals ranked with top quality care scores tend to receive average or poor online provider review scores.

online provider review

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Online provider review scores do not always match up to traditional hospital quality rankings, likely because patients discuss customer service and patient satisfaction issues when leaving an online review, according to a report from Vanguard Communications & Healthcare Process Improvement.

The report showed that about two-thirds of online reviews pertaining to the US News & World Report Top 20 Hospitals rankings reflected mediocre to poor patient experiences. The report authors analyzed nearly 2,700 online reviews about these 20 hospitals and found that nearly 63 percent of patients gave the hospitals between one and three stars out of five.

The average star rating across all 20 hospitals was 3.2 out of five stars, the report said.

These results highlight a significant gap in perception of hospital quality for patients and healthcare professionals, the report suggested. What some industry professionals may regard as top-notch care may not be meeting patient expectations.

This divergence could be the result of different healthcare priorities. The researchers compiling the US News & World Report ratings look at clinical quality and other hard data, according to the methodology website. US News & World Report uses the following criteria to assess their top hospital rankings:

“Each hospital analyzed in the 12 data-driven rankings received an overall score from 0 to 100 based on four elements: survival, patient safety, care-related factors such as the intensity of nurse staffing and the breadth of patient services, and expert opinion obtained through the physician survey.”

Conversely, online provider reviews usually relate to subjective patient experience and other patient satisfaction anecdotes, the Vanguard report noted. Eighty-four percent of the online reviews included in the report pertained to non-clinical factors such as billing issues, poor phone answering or follow-up care, and extraordinary wait periods to see a doctor.

Very few complaints related to clinical quality, the report showed.

In fact, most online provider reviews praise the clinical quality and expertise of the provider, the report said. A 2016 report from Vanguard showed that 66 percent of online reviews for doctors – not practices – yield four- or five-star ratings.

“Each year US News & World Report performs a great public service by evaluating hospitals in areas that are least transparent and accessible to healthcare consumers,” said Vanguard CEO Ron Harmon King.

“We thought it would be interesting to learn more about what patients thought,” King continued. “Our findings suggest they focus their online comments more on non-medical matters such as how many rings or pushed buttons it takes to get a live person on the phone and the availability of parking for a doctor’s appointment. This is understandable given the greater transparency of quality of those services.”

To be clear, Vanguard is not discrediting the value of the US News & World Report ratings. The ratings offer a clear and concise resource for patients to make treatment decisions.

Instead, King says the findings of the Vanguard report indicate that patients need to tap other resources to assess hospital or practice quality.

“People are generally pleased with their care providers,” King said. “The harshest reviews more often than not complain about non-clinical services provided by administrative staffs surrounding the doctors. We heartily endorse the work of U.S. News & World Report and we also believe there may be supplementary value in what social media reveals.”

To its credit, US News & World Report also acknowledged that its rankings serve as one of many tools for patient treatment decisions. The top-ranking hospitals are not always the best care choices, the publication wrote in its methodology.

“Patients still have to do their own research and talk with their doctors,” US News & World Report wrote on its website. “We also understand that families have to consider such factors as the stress and expense of travel and lodging in another city and their insurer's willingness to pay for care if a hospital is out of network.”

It will be important for healthcare professionals to consider all reports of quality care. While reports like those from US News & World Report may offer a glimpse into clinical quality nationwide, online provider reviews can offer insights into the patient experience that can also direct practice improvement initiatives.

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