How Tech-Savvy Consumers Help Health Systems Improve Transparency and Operations

By Claire Celeste Carnes

At Providence Ventures, being part of Providence Health & Services affords our team unique exposure to emerging health care trends and the opportunity to engage with experts in our health system who are adapting to these trends. One trend we expect to continue is the rise of consumerism. A key aspect of consumerism is the move toward better transparency. Health care, more so than other service industries, has been hard to shop and compare options; all physicians are expected to deliver quality care while other attributes, such as being a good listener or providing a thorough exam, are rarely measured effectively. With this lack of insight, many consumers traditionally find their doctor by asking for recommendations from friends and family.

But this is all changing as the word of mouth is moving to the web. Social media and the explosion of online reviews are changing how consumers select their care and care providers – and health systems are seeking ways to respond.

There are financial reasons for consumers to become better shoppers as well. As more health plans require higher out-of-pocket patient expenditures, consumers are increasingly conscious of how and when they utilize health care services. More consumers are turning to online sources for health information to understand their options and to guide decision-making. A majority of Internet users say they looked online for health information within the past year, and a 2014 study shows that most American adults consider online content an important consideration when choosing a physician.

Tech-savvy consumers, who use sites such as Yelp.com or TripAdvisor.com, expect similar experiences in health care, which is learning from other industries that already use consumer sentiment analysis to their strategic advantage. The ubiquity of mobile devices, connected to social media, has created opportunities for customers to express their feelings, using social media as a primary outlet. A November 2014 survey by Software Advice found that 42 percent of consumers read online reviews about doctors – a 68 percent increase in just one year – and 85 percent of respondents said they would be at least “moderately likely” to choose a doctor based on positive reviews.

A recent article in Modern Healthcare noted that health care consumers often shared feedback online about bills, wait times, and rude staff; all areas that are not a part of formal health care surveys.  A study highlighted in the article analyzed the data, finding that less than a quarterof the 41 categories of patient comments from more than 16,800 Yelp reviews posted for 1,352 hospitals (through July 2014) correlated with HCAHPS survey questions. This means more than 75% of the feedback consumers choose to give health systems is not captured through traditional surveys. These insights from social media can provide actionable feedback for health systems, and may be suggestions that are far less costly than hiring additional physicians – areas like improving clarity on patient bills, improving patient scheduling options, or even improving or expanding parking.

Patient satisfaction is also a growing priority for physicians and medical groups due to its potential impact on provider reimbursement. In the last three years, CMS has begun using satisfaction data to determine a portion of Medicare reimbursement. Satisfaction measures are also starting to factor into physician compensation.

With all of these dynamics, health care providers are investing in social media strategies to attract and retain consumers, create incentives for doctors to improve patient satisfaction, and to identify operational or personnel issues that affect the patient experience.                              

Providence Health & Services sees a lot of opportunity in this space and, in 2013, adopted Binary Fountain, a solution that enables the organization to efficiently “listen to” what social media, online rating and review sites, and other online sources are saying about its service in a scalable way. The Binary Health Analytics solution uncovers and analyzes consumer feedback and creates “sentiment scores” using advanced natural language processing technology (NLP). Providence can then assess results, sorting by physician, facility, or specific patient experience focus areas (e.g. timeliness, bedside manner, and office.). Physician management and patient experience teams find value in the data by more effectively monitoring online reputation and better understanding consumer expectations, helping them to correct issues that lead to poor reviews.

Providence also rolled out a new Binary Fountain feature, Binary Star Ratings, which lets the organization share our reviews and ratings online while removing protected health information (PHI). The information from patient surveys is scrubbed, processed, and assigned a rating; these ratings are then posted on Providence’s physician profile directories. Patients searching for doctors can see how physicians are scored after at least 30 ratings have been logged.  Not only does this provide greater transparency; it also improves the rankings of Providence’s physicians in free search engine results because the physician profile pages contain more relevant and rich data that search engines score higher.  

I had a chance to use this myself recently. My physician was moving to another health care system, so I was able to search for a doctor with my criteria, including proximity and gender. I read the bio and her areas of expertise, and checked out her reviews. Working in a health care system, I can simply ask one of my physician colleagues to recommend someone, however if we expect our community to use these tools, I should trust them enough to use them as well. I found Jeanne Phillips MD with a rating of 4.8 stars out of 5, and saw her earlier this year. She listened to me, reviewed my data, and had recommendations for everything from medication to mindfulness. In short, the reviews work!

 

Providence Venture’s relationship with Binary Fountain follows the same pattern we’ve taken with other portfolio investments; we get to know the company and its technology, test the company’s products as a customer, and then, if it makes sense to both parties, invest.

Consumers are shopping for health care, so we focused on enabling this activity through tools supporting shopping tools including provider ratings and reviews.