January 28, 2016
Much has been written about patient reviews in healthcare. But in an industry overflowing with data, why do they still matter?
Consumers can now quickly search for objective information on a doctor's experience and patient satisfaction ratings, as well as multi-faceted information on affiliated hospital quality. Yet subjective reviews continue to be an important decision-making criterion for potential patients. What additional value do consumers gather from unstructured written feedback?
- Authentic Experience: For readers, subjective stories improve their ability to differentiate between fake reviews and legitimate ones. Planted ones tend to contain odd facts about a physician that no patient would think to mention ("office staff has a combined 50 years' experience"), while genuine stories are heartfelt ("Dr. Smith saved my life"). Star ratings don't provide this type of information. Among the stories in Healthgrades' Health Stories project, many titles stand out. For example, a large number contain the words caring, above and beyond, amazing, best, great, excellent, and incredible. It's the digital equivalent of sending a thank you card or a box of chocolates.
- Emotional Connection: Also notable within Health Stories are the titles that start with "I" or a patient's name. There is "Cindy's Total Knee Replacement Story" and "I Lost 250 Pounds." These personal stories comprise some of the most powerful and compelling information consumers can gather. They are able to walk in another patient's shoes through the care process. Studies show that these types of emotional stories positively impact people's memory of facts. For example, they may be more likely to remember a doctor's star rating if they read a touching patient story about that doctor's care.
- Generationally Relevant: At one academic medical center, all providers have an online profile that includes reviews. The medical center believes that different age groups prioritize different aspects of care. Baby boomers want the best of everything, meaning the highest rankings. Generation X and Millennials prioritize convenience and collaborative care planning. Reviews speak to many different aspects of care.
- Two-Way Conversations: Marketing has traditionally involved healthcare organizations talking at, not with, patients. Reviews are patients' opportunity to remake this experience into a conversation. Did the actual doctor's visit meet expectations, both based on marketing promises and patients' ideas about what makes a good healthcare encounter? As University of Utah Hospital director of strategic initiatives Chrissy Daniels summarizes, "We could not get better at the rate we're getting better without the comments. It's the engine that drives our whole system." The Institute for Healthcare Improvement also sees stories as drivers that connect and engage. They help healthcare organizations see through patients' eyes.
- Patient-Reported Outcomes: The National Quality Forum defines patient-reported outcomes as "any report of the status of a patient's (or person's) health condition, health behavior, or experience with healthcare that comes directly from the patient, without interpretation of the patient's response by a clinician or anyone else." A review that includes phrases like I'm pain-free or I got my life back or My experience with Dr. Smith is, by definition, a patient-reported outcome. These are the healthcare results that are most personal and relevant to patients themselves.
Stories are powerful. They help drive consumers' healthcare decisions while simultaneously improving the care experience. When patients get emotional, it can improve outcomes on both sides of the patient-provider relationship.