The Progress of Ratings Services

The results of a somewhat disappointing poll for the participatory health care crew (this blog included) was publicized in American Medical News this week. The poll, conducted by Harris Interactive and commissioned by the California Health Care Association, found:

that although more than 80% of the state’s adults turn to the Internet for health-related information, less than one-quarter have looked at physician ratings sites. Only 2% of those surveyed made a change in physicians based on information posted on a rating site.

Further, the survey concluded:

that only 1% of respondents made a change in their hospital or health plan based on ratings sites devoted to those entities.

The findings are not that surprising.  Health care services have been consumed passively since the beginning of time.  A paradigm shift of this magnitude will take time.  Participatory health care utilized in an online fashion is in its infancy.  However, patients have long relied upon word-of-mouth suggestions from people they know to select care options.  As patients become more comfortable with online resources for selecting health care services, those services will become more persuasive much like traditional friend-to-friend word-of-mouth.

One of the biggest problems is the diffuse nature of ratings information.  The online ratings industry is booming.  Doctors are being rated.  Insurers are being rated.  Nurses are being rated.  Hospitals are being rated.  Etc.  And entrepreneurs long for a piece of the pie.  That means that many sites use different sources of information to create various iterations of ratings.

The next step is for ratings to begin to incorporate multiple sources of data and rank various components to come up with an overall value index.  Just such an index may improve the use of online rating services to select health care services.

The Health Blog brings us news about a new rating service called the Hospital Value Index created by Data Advantage.  The plan:

The idea is to measure not just quality, but also cost and efficiency to identify the best hospital bang for your buck.

It promises to rank more than 1,400 hospitals in markets covering 180 million people — roughly 42% of all hospital activity by its measure — and serve up lists of the top-value hospitals in the U.S., and in different markets. Another list shows “high value” hospitals ordinarily in the shadow of more famous neighbors.

The Health Value Index remains imperfect.  Read the Health Blog post for some of its drawbacks.  But the new rating service is an improvement that brings together diffuse information to more easily compare hospitals.  Looking forward to the next step along the innovation process…

When physician and hospital ratings get specific…

OK, so we know hospital and physician rating sites are going to be big sooner than later.  The fact that the rating information is so diffuse at this point allows us to breathe a sigh of relief.  But not for long.  This opportunity to “get the house in order” is a gift.  Act accordingly.

Dr. Michael Millenson writes in H&HN’s Most Wired Magazine on ratings.  Selected excerpts (link via THCB):

The “electronic medical grapevine,” to coin a term, is growing in importance. In 2001, the American Medical Association issued a press release suggesting that patients make a New Year’s resolution to “trust your physician, not a chat room.” As with much other New Year’s advice, this proffered piece of wisdom went unheeded. Today, online doctor ratings have become an integral part of an effort to intensify the interactivity of health care sites and thereby make them more attractive to users.

If you think this is only the doctor’s problem, think again. Although a hospital’s reputation is woven from many threads, it all unravels without good physicians. Scattered positive or negative comments won’t have much impact, but a pattern of “best doctors” ratings or, conversely, ratings showing the “worst attitude toward patients” can be much more important in a competitive marketplace. To protect themselves, hospitals at the very least should check up on big admitters and prominent leaders of the medical staff. Like it or not, the first thing many “singles” do before a first date is search the Web for information on that potential partner. In that same spirit, keeping track of your physician partners is just common sense.

We all know that in the real world, the importance of regulatory authorities isn’t going away. But in the virtual world, the electronic medical grapevine is growing in importance in a way that may someday rival the stamp of approval of regulators. These days, it pays to pay attention to the impact of both.

Soon market leaders will emerge in this health care rating business giving the industry needed credibility.  When that happens, it is only natural for the form of those ratings to progress.  And the natural progression will include specificity.

Take a look at SeatGuru, which gives travelers information about the best and worst seats on hundreds of airplanes around the world.  Or the newly launched TripKick which does the same for hotel rooms.  From Springwise:

While TripAdvisor (which acquired SeatGuru in 2007) gives travellers access to detailed hotel reviews by other travellers, who occasionally include info on which rooms to book, there’s definitely an opportunity in getting specific about individual rooms.

TripKick—”your hotel sidekick”—launched with about 250 hotels in 10 US cities, with more to follow. Coverage of each hotel includes detailed information on which rooms to request: which rooms are oversized (rooms ending in 03 and 04, for example), which have great bathrooms or are quieter than others. TripKick, which spent a year gathering all of this information, also points out which floors are better, and which to avoid. Guests are encouraged to add their own reviews and upload photos of rooms they’ve stayed in.

The impact of health care rating sites will be truly felt when the information gets specific.  Specific about departments, about visits, about procedures, about experiences.  Pictures included.  Are you making the necessary preparations?