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Can you trust online 'user reviews' of hospitals?

Consumer Reports News: May 01, 2012 10:53 AM

You might feel comfortable choosing a car or washing machine based at least in part on what other people say online. But how about picking a hospital? A new British study suggests those hospital user reviews can be helpful.

The website of the National Health Service, England's public health-care system, allows people to rate their hospital experiences by assigning scores to various aspects of their care, such as how frequently hospital staff worked together and if they were involved with decisions about their own care. British researchers compared more than 10,000 such patient reviews submitted in 2009 and 2010 to the results of a paper-based survey that the government and researchers use to assess patient experience. They found that the online patient reviews matched up quite nicely with the formal, and much more expensive, survey results, and even correlated to some extent with hospital mortality rates.

"The findings suggest that unsolicited online hospital reviews might help you learn what your experiences in a particular hospital will be like," says John Santa, M.D. director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. "That might help you choose a hospital, and also alert you to the weaknesses of a hospital so that you can take precautions if you or someone you know is admitted there."

Our hospital Ratings are based in part on the results of a similar U.S. survey of patient experience. They also include information on how well hospital patients fared, such as their chance of developing a bloodstream infection.

But what do you think, should we try to add user reviews to our Ratings as well? Let us know in the comments section below.

And see our advice on how how to stay safe in the hospital.

Associations between Internet-based patient ratings and conventional surveys of patient experience in the English NHS: an observational study. [BMJ Quality & Safety]

—Doris Peter

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