Healthcare's new challenge: online reputation management

Traditional measures of patient experience are inadequate in the emerging digital health marketplace. Providers must harness social media data and manage their online reputations. Here's how one health system did it.

Executive torso with reputation management screen
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No topic gets more attention today in healthcare than patient experience (PX). Whether in the context of population health management, value-based care or healthcare consumerism, improving PX is the dominant driver for technology investments and innovation programs.

Healthcare consumers are not just taking charge of their healthcare decisions; they are weighing in on everything from price transparency and care quality to the demeanor and friendliness of their care providers, and they are expressing themselves on social media.

Patient experience and online reputations

A recent survey by consulting firm Jarrard Inc., titled Patient Experience 2.0, provides some insights into the challenges faced by health systems in understanding healthcare consumers.

  • Until now, the healthcare industry has focused exclusively on HCAHPS scores to manage their organizational reputations. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) uses HCAHPS scores to determine patient satisfaction levels, which in turn drives financial incentives for health systems. However, according to the Jarrard survey, HCAHPS is far from adequate in capturing the overall patient experience today.
  • After long years of insulation from the brutal forces of a competitive consumer-oriented marketplace, healthcare is now scrambling to catch up. Healthcare companies are turning to other consumer industries such as retail and banking for best practices in engaging consumers across multiple channels.

The rise of social media has created a new problem (and an opportunity) for healthcare providers: how to manage their online reputations.

Most health systems do not have an effective means to capture patient feedback from social media and integrate that data into a multichannel strategy for PX management. As consumer preferences change and choices increase, health systems also have to actively market themselves to acquire and retain customers. (Read my earlier column here on how Lehigh Valley Health Network’s CIO and CMO work closely to use technology and data to shape their digital marketing strategy.)

Health systems are recognizing all this and are going beyond traditional engagement models to become partners with their consumers in managing health and wellness.  

If you build it, they will no longer just keep coming

Providence Health & Services (Providence Health), a large health system founded in 1859 that serves over 11 million patients in seven states across the western United States, is looking at online reputation management as an important aspect of patient experience and a key to the long-term sustainability of the business. In a departure from the traditional “if you build it, they will come” approach to patient acquisition and retention, Providence Health is looking at customer lifetime value (CLV) and focusing on building long-term relationships with patients instead of just focusing on high-margin surgeries.

Customer satisfaction and retention follow a tried and tested three-part formula: data, insights and action. But what if the data is woefully inadequate and fails to take into consideration the different forms and sources from which it is available today?

A part of the problem with HCAHPS — besides getting patients to respond to surveys — is that patient feedback is no longer limited to a single encounter or to a single platform. Patients today are letting loose on social media all the time regarding all aspects of their experience. And their doctors are not their Facebook friends. So how does the healthcare provider obtain meaningful feedback and insights to drive changes?

Providence Health, like the respondents in the Jarrard survey, knew that it needed something more than HCAHPS scores to understand the true nature of patient experience in its hospitals. Working with Binary Fountain, a company that has developed a partnership with Press Ganey, Providence Health deployed Binary Health Analytics, a holistic patient feedback management platform to manage online reputation and improve patient experience. The platform helps healthcare organizations uncover and act on patient experience insights from online ratings and reviews, social media, CG-CAHPS and HCAHPS and other surveys. By augmenting proprietary patient survey data (Press Ganey) with crowdsourced reviews (e.g. Yelp), Providence Health is able to enhance its understanding of patient experience to drive operational change.

Since the publication of these ratings, providers in the Providence network who are part of the program have seen a 25% to 29% surge in page views. Patients have indicated the reviews to be valuable considerations in provider selection. That's not surprising, since 65% of the respondents in the Jarrard survey indicated they do not provide any patient reviews at all on their websites. It’s as if patients have finally found a voice, and health systems like Providence Health have tapped into a crying need in the healthcare marketplace.

Show me the money

However, it’s early days yet. Harnessing all the available data on patients in real time is a challenge, even as data sources continue to explode, from data collected via the internet of things (IoT) to patient-generated health data (PGHD). The scoring algorithms will need to develop predictive abilities that can anticipate and address patient experience issues before they become customer retention problems for the health system.

The most valuable digital businesses today, such as Amazon, use a combination of technology, data and network relationships to create value. They use advanced algorithms to predict what consumers might be interested in, and proactively make suggestions to them. Healthcare, mired under regulations and lack of transparency, is getting a wake-up call as enlightened consumers start to demand experiences similar to those they have with online retailers and other ecommerce businesses. Emerging digital health businesses are the antithesis of brick-and-mortar health systems, and they focus intensely on user experience and convenience, transparency and choice as the foundations of their business models.

Someday soon, consumers — especially millennials — may buy healthcare just as they buy any other service, such as banking or insurance. The three-part formula for business success in the new era may well be: reputation, retention and revenue. For health systems, it may start with their online reputations.

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