Study: Hospitals With More Facebook 'Likes' Have Lower Mortality Rates

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Online popularity reliably indicates quality care -- in this case.

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One of the biggest complaints against the current health care system is that you can never be sure, when you walk into a hospital, exactly what you're going to get. Certain metrics, like patient satisfaction and mortality rates, are thought to be more or less reliable indicators of general quality, but neither are exactly easy to obtain. Patient review sites, in the style of Yelp, are vulnerable to slander and reporting bias, and stats for specific hospitals, when collected, often aren't publically available.

Instead of finding new ways of collecting and reporting quality, why not use something that we already know to be powerfully effective: the social force that is Facebook. As a study on friendship similarly showed, Facebook is not best seen as a purely virtual space, but rather as a tool that augments our lived-in reality.

This reality, as a study in The American Journal of Medical Quality found, extends to the patient experience. When its authors compared the number of "likes" acquired by 40 hospitals in the New York City area, they found that online popularity was positively corresponded with how many people responded, "Yes, they would definitely recommend the hospital," in patient satisfaction surveys.  

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An even stronger relationship was found for mortality. Each percentage point of a decrease in a hospital's 30-day mortality rate corresponded with that hospital's page having an average of 93 more Facebook likes.

With a few very large outliers, most of the hospitals included in the study had only a few hundred likes -- paltry showings by the social media giant's standards. But the numbers turned out to be a better indicator of quality, in terms of mortality rates, than were the satisfaction survey results. After all, every patient who passed through the hospitals was given the survey and asked to choose whether or not they'd recommend it to others. But it takes a special kind of satisfaction for a patient to log on to Facebook, seek out their hospital, and make their recommendation public.

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Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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