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What Facebook Says About a Hospital’s Quality and Patient Satisfaction

February 22, 2013
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This week, I posted an article about one of healthcare’s oddest marriages: payers and providers. It’s not the only “odd marriage” that has been on my mind.

Social media and healthcare, especially when you’re talking about hospitals, is most assuredly an awkward marriage. It’s a partnership that, according to research I’ve seen in the past, hasn’t really gotten off the ground thanks to one’s lack of understanding on the other (although the healthcare industry is hardly the only one that has failed to grasp the potential of social media). It’s one that comes with a heavy sense of potential danger, in terms of both doctor and patient privacy. And rarely is the marriage between social media and a provider-based organization done right.

For many people in healthcare, I’d imagine this reality is not that big of a deal. After all, who cares if you have a good Facebook page? If your hospital houses great doctors and nurses, as well as innovative technology, is having a lame social media strategy really the end of the world?

No. Of course not.

However, I wouldn’t deny its importance entirely. I saw an interesting study from the folks at the Healthcare Innovation Technology Laboratory (HIT Lab). The researchers analyzed Facebook data and compared it to 30-day mortality rates and patient recommendation rates for 40 hospitals in the New York City metropolitan area.

What did the HIT lab researchers find? The number of likes a hospital had corresponded positively with their mortality rates. The researchers found that for every 93 additional Facebook likes there is a corresponding 1 percentage point decrease in 30-day mortality. In addition, the number of Facebook likes was positively associated with patient recommendation, although the researchers mentioned that it was not as strongly as they correspond with 30-day mortality.

“We’re encouraged that the correlations support the idea that free, widely accessible data made available via social media will continue to find a place in academic assessment of hospital quality,” Alex Timian, lead author of the study, “Do Patients ‘Like’ Good Care? Measuring hospital quality via Facebook,” said in a blog post.

Could it be that the hospitals who do the best on social media are the ones who are the most transparent? It seems these hospitals are the ones that do best with quality improvement initiatives, publicizing the results of those initiatives, and patient satisfaction.

As the researchers said in their study, which was published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Medical Quality, these obviously aren’t conclusive findings. It’s not set in stone that the amount of likes a hospital has on Facebook is equivalent to its quality and patient satisfaction. Rather, this finding is a premise that should be explored with further research, using other social media outlets, different areas of the globe, and larger hospital datasets.  

“Our hope is that this exploratory work will serve as a stepping stone for other public health and ICT researchers to build on by analyzing data from Facebook and other social media tools against various traditional measures,” Timian said.

Essentially, those in healthcare who want to completely dismiss the value of social media should think twice.