Facebook can be more than just a way to share traffic horror stories and pictures of your lunch. The ubiquitous social media tool may also help hospitals improve quality. That’s according to a study published in February in the American Journal of Medical Quality.
Based on the exploratory research, every 93 new “Likes” a hospital received on its Facebook page coincided with a 1 percentage point decrease in 30-day mortality. The number of “Likes” were also positively associated with patient recommendation, although not as strongly as they corresponded with 30-day mortality.
Although the study authors were quick to note that Facebook “Likes” or any other social media metric should not be used as a serious determinant of quality or patient satisfaction, they added that social media could potentially play that role down the road.
“These correlations indicated that, after more research into this area, social media could provide researchers and patients alike with a dynamic measure of quality and patient satisfaction,” said study co-author Paloma Luisi, a research associate for HIT Lab, a New York-based, independent health information technology research group that conducted the study.
The study held interesting findings for teaching hospitals specifically. Researchers hypothesized that teaching hospitals mean lots of young residents, which in turn would mean more “Likes” for teaching hospital profiles because more staff would be Facebook users. However, that was not ultimately the case. In fact, teaching hospitals had fewer “Likes” than their non-teaching counterparts.
“When we analyzed the data, we found that teaching hospitals were actually negatively associated with Facebook ‘Likes,’” Luisi said. “We can only speculate on the reasons behind this finding and do not know if the negative association reflects larger quality issues at these institutions.”
So what does it all mean moving forward? No one is suggesting that Facebook is or should be the new definitive source of patient satisfaction or any other data. However, Luisi recommended hospitals pay closer attention to tools like Facebook.
“Social media is here to stay. It has become integral to the way patients seek information and even communicate with providers,” Luisi said. “In the same vein, we see significant momentum for hospitals and other facilities to embrace social media, both for engaging with and listening to their patient communities.”
By the same token, social media will never take the place of major national databases for health researchers. But perhaps it could be another, complementary source of information when investigating satisfaction or quality trends.
“We hope that in the near future, the public health research community can add social media to the list of validated data-gathering tools,” Luisi said. “Likewise, we hope that hospitals and provider organizations will explore ethical and validated ways to mine social media for feedback from their patients and community members, to help identify areas where they are doing well or that they need to address.”