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Health Systems

Do Hospital Rankings Matter?

Patients are less likely to rely on word of mouth these days, and the data available makes an objective measurement easier.
By Catherine Rosas |

Each year, the U.S. News and World Report’s Best Hospitals report is big news for hospitals, and for those that make the list, a marketing opportunity to be seized. Billboards around town proclaim hospitals that qualify. But do patients base their decisions on these rankings? And do hospital employees outside the marketing department care?

The report evaluates 15 specialty areas of care, influencing nationwide and regional hospital rankings. These rankings are based on responses from expert opinion surveys and physician specialists who are asked to name hospitals to refer their sickest patients. U.S. News states these ranking should be a starting point in finding the best provider for them, saying “patients still have to do their research and talk with their doctors.”  

In the 2021-22 Dallas-Fort Worth region, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Baylor University Medical Center, and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas respectively rank first, second, and third overall. Every year, consumers can dig into specialties, safety rankings, and quality evaluations using US News and a number of other organizations. 

Britt Berrett is now the Director of UT Dallas’ Center for Healthcare Leadership & Management has held executive positions at both Medical City Dallas and Texas Health Presbyterian and says the impact of these rankings are difficult to measure, contrasting these facilities with restaurants, where there are vehicles to help people assess the quality of an establishment. “At a restaurant, people enjoy it, or they get food poisoning,” says Dr. Berrett, “Healthcare is completely counterintuitive.”  

 In healthcare, we decide on our providers through recommendations from people currently in our lives, friends, family, or other healthcare providers. However, Berrett says, “We’re becoming a community in a society of transition.” A community that moves is curious, more interested in measuring quality, and more reluctant to go by word of mouth. “This generation wants data,” says Berrett. 

With the escalation of data-driven evaluations, there has also been an escalation in marketing dollars for healthcare providers to position themselves as leaders. Although in the past, individuals were not persuaded by marketing in healthcare, dynamics are changing into needing an industry-wide tool for evaluating healthcare options. That’s where the importance of quality assessment reports play in. These reports provide patients with the opportunity to assess assessments of healthcare options in conjunction with a consultation with a healthcare professional. 

These reports are discussed as a combination of business marketing strategies that help patient-driven evaluations of healthcare providers. Berrett says it is impossible to identify patient pattern changes with the release of these Best Hospitals reports, but these reports as marketing strategies are overall affirming information for patients.  

“Let’s suppose you are on the lookout for oncology care, and you walk by a big poster that says U.S. News and World Report, that affirms that you made the right decision,” Berrett says. But marketing has its limits. “Where you draw a distinction is in the very tertiary specialized care that might require a physician referral to a specialist in a specific area.”  

Though alternate hospital evaluations like the Washington Monthly evaluations say that many rankings are irrelevant to most people because they don’t have access or health insurance coverage, but Berrett is not critical of them. “As a matter of fact, I celebrate this effort.” Berrett does not see healthcare providers and hospital systems changing how they provide care but is critical of those who use these reports to measure their quality.

As hospitals are forced to be more transparent about pricing, and more organizations are publicizing their evaluations, consumers will be able to shop for healthcare like they have for other products for decades. This, in turn, could make hospital rankings even more important than they are already. “I think as we move into the next generation, we’re in the era of reformation and are reforming healthcare like never before. And with that, we’re going to use all the tools of business to attack the healthcare delivery system,” says Dr. Berrett. 

See the full rankings here.

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