February 28, 2017

Here's why one CEO says health systems should embrace patient reviews

Daily Briefing

"Rather than lament" online physician reviews, "health care systems should welcome the opinions of our patients, learn from them, and share them with the public," Vivian Lee, SVP of health sciences at the University of Utah, dean of the university's School of Medicine, and CEO of University of Utah Health Care (UUHC), writes in STAT News.

Why University of Utah Health Care's CEO wants a 'health care revolution'

According to Lee, the University of Utah was the first health system in the country to publicly post patients' provider reviews online. The effort "has paid off in many ways," Lee writes—and here's why Lee thinks other systems should do the same:

1) It prioritizes the patient

UUHC's initiative began in 2008, Lee explains, when the system launched its Exceptional Patient Experience—an enterprise aimed at making "patient feedback a driving force in our health care system." Through the initiative, the system collected feedback from patients about their experiences and benchmarked the scores against physicians' peers nationwide.

Initially, UUHC confidentially shared the information with doctors, but in 2012, officials made the system public, allowing patients to post their reviews online. That shift, according to Lee, signaled the importance of patient feedback "in our organization and our larger community." Lee writes, "We now get, and post, roughly 100,000 reviews a year that are directed towards our physicians and their teams."

According to Lee, more than 50 other health care systems have since "embraced transparency for their patients," including "Piedmont Healthcare, Wake Forest Baptist Health, Northwell Health, Stanford, Cleveland Clinic, University of Pittsburgh, [and] Duke."

2) It establishes a culture of improvement

According to Lee, patient feedback "helps drive continuous innovation towards more patient-centered care." For instance, she says that patient feedback has helped her system cut clinic wait times, improve patient handoffs, and made it easier for patients to sleep in the hospital. In fact, such feedback spurred the system to establish on-site childcare for patients with young children and make at-home well-baby visits for newborns.

And patient-feedback system "confirmed to us that, for the most part, our providers are excellent learners," Lee writes. She explains that while providers "were initially reluctant to be judged publicly by their patients," they "embraced the opportunity" after they recognized "the value of direct feedback from a trusted source (their own patients)." Lee adds, "For three years in a row, almost half of our providers are in the 90th percentile or above in patient satisfaction and one-quarter are at the 99th percentile."

3) It lets systems ensure the reliability of reviews

"Anyone can post a comment about a provider on public sites like Yelp, Healthgrades, and Vitals—even a disgruntled neighbor or an upset colleague," Lee writes, but "that's not the case for reviews on health system portals."

She explains that UUHC takes steps to ensure that surveys go only to patients who have been seen by a university clinician. When the surveys are returned, they are posted "unedited," unless they could compromise patient privacy or be considered legally libelous, Lee explains.

She concludes, "In short, health systems, not public websites, offer the most reliable reviews out there. That matters, because better data can help patients make more informed decisions about their care."

4) It improves more than 'the health care experience'

According to Lee, publicly sharing patient reviews "does more than improve the health care experience"—it also boosts trust between patients and providers and helps generate "new ideas for both."

For instance, after UUHC learned that its patients wanted "to know how much different types of health care would cost," the system last year "launched an online pricing transparency tool" that lets patients get cost estimates on certain procedures "in a matter of minutes." And the reviews have another "welcome consequence," Lee adds, "a 180 percent boost in visits to our website" (Lee, STAT News, 2/21; Minemyer, FierceHealthcare, 2/22).

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