Responding to the Power of Consumerism in Health Care Embracing Transparency to Drive Change

Do you shop online using Amazon or another online retail store? Have you found yourself reading over online reviews for products before you buy? If you answered “Yes”, then you probably are aware that these reviews help influence or deter you from buying something. In some form, these online reviews provide credibility and increase the likelihood of making a purchase for consumers. Would you buy something online if you saw it had mostly poor reviews? Probably not.

The University of Utah Health Care (UoUHealthCare) realized that the same is true for consumers when they select a doctor for medical care. Back in the day, most people selected doctors through word of mouth from someone that they knew. By hearing a “positive” story about a doctor validated the doctor’s credibility and increase the likelihood that someone would seek medical care from that doctor. Fast forward to today, and information is literally at your fingertips. Consumers have easy access to online information and can search for information on anyone or anything.

This is exactly how this initiative made its way to the UoUHealthCare. A sister to one of their doctors “googled” the doctor and discovered average reviews on the web. The biggest issue with this is that this doctor wasn’t average, but the doctor was exceptional. The doctor’s online image didn’t match the real reality of what patient interactions were with the doctor. In this example (and probably in many others) patients with negative stories went to the web to tell it, but patients with positive interactions didn’t.

The UoUHealthCare couldn’t control these external reviews found around the web, but they could take action on reviews that were found on their own website. The medical center implemented a plan that would encourage patients at discharge to go online and submit a review about their experience with their doctor.

This plan was met with some resistance from some of the doctors. During this presentation, objections were listed and answered by letting the results (or data) speak for itself.

Objections included:

Objection #1: Patients aren’t interested in this kind of information

Results: 12 months after go live of the program, there was more than a 50% increase in consumer viewing reviews of the hospitals website compared to 12 months before the program launched.

Objection #2: Posting negative comments from patients online will be bad for business

Results: Patients likelihood to recommend their doctor to someone else increased and so did patient volumes

Objection #3: The pressure to get good scores will cause us to:

  • Focus on pleasing patients rather than doing what’s best
  • Bend to their unreasonable demands
  • Compromise the quality of care we provide

Results: Not only did the online reviews have a negative impact, they helped to improve the quality ranking for UoUHealthCare. The UoUHealthCare ranked #6 on the National Quality Ranking.

Objection #4: It won’t improve patient satisfaction

Results: There was an increase in the # of online reviews, overall performance, and with overall communications with doctors. What UoUHealthCare learned is that most doctors are competitive, and after doctors learned about their online ratings they wanted to have the best scores. Doctors who had low ratings quickly were able to increase their online ratings within months. All of this increased patient satisfaction and business.

The UoUHealthCare unleashed the power that transparency that doctor’s interactions can have on a medical center. Since then, other hospitals have implemented online review programs. These medical centers include: Duke Medicine, Cleveland Clinic, Geisinger Health System, Emory Healthcare, Piedmont Medical Center, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, and UNC Healthcare.

For me what’s interesting and powerful about this information is that sometimes people have the tendency to look at these initiatives with a not-so positive outlook upon hearing it. The results produced by UoUHealthCare are amazing.  How can we put often used terms like “better healthcare” and “the future of healthcare” into action? We can start by looking at this story for the impact that new ideas can have and reach the goal of better healthcare. We can do this by embracing a mindset of continuous improvement to improve patient care, satisfaction, operations, and revenue.

If you like to learn more on this topic, the slides of this presentation are available on the Health Forum Education website located here.