Sophisticated and Powerful Consumers: How Transparency Will Change Hospitals

Written by Molly Gamble

While patients have always been hospitals’ consumers, provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act paired with increased availability of provider data, ratings and reviews has left the patient more informed and engaged than ever before. Hospitals that adjust their transparency and delivery models to meet sophisticated consumers will fare better as healthcare reform unfolds.

Sources of consumer data
Between word-of-mouth, the CMS’ Hospital Compare, HealthGrades and various consumer blogs, patients have seemingly infinite amounts of healthcare data available to them. David Woolwine, vice president of Learning and Organizational Development at Sentara Healthcare, an eight-hospital system based in Norfolk, Va., notes that patients have become more informed over the past few years and have taken a new role in care delivery as a result. “They know the ins and outs of healthcare now,” he says. “They’ve looked at particular diagnoses and can participate in the delivery of their care. People look at quality and service ratings, blogs and all kinds of consumer comments. They are also asking more clinical questions,” says Mr. Woolwine.

Many experts remain split on whether data, such as HCAHPS, word-of-mouth or word-of-mouse — such as blogs or online scores — drive patient decisions more. Before Mary Malone, MS, JD, became president of Malone Advisory Services, she worked at Press Ganey as a senior leader for more than 14 years. Ms. Malone says while data is reliable, patients may still focus on the personal nature of hospitals. “I might be a contrarian on this, but I think you might see a bigger emphasis on word of mouth,” says Ms. Malone. “It seems clear that word-of-mouth is still the number one way we learn about our healthcare or select our physicians and hospitals,” she says.

Word-of-mouth works both ways, helping or hurting a hospital’s place with consumers along with its bottom line. “We recently had a client tell us of a situation where patients cancelled surgeries with a surgeon the hospital recently hired. An investigation found that patient comments on consumer sites — not medical sites — were negative. It turned out that the surgeon only had five ratings, but they were negative and it cost the hospital business,” says John Luginbill, CEO of Indianapolis-based The Heavyweights, an agency that helps healthcare institutions drive patient volume.

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