Virginia Mason study examines whether public sharing of patient satisfaction data results in inappropriate, unnecessary medical services

Oct. 29, 2018

A two-year study at Virginia Mason concludes that concerns among some in healthcare that publicly reporting patients’ satisfaction data and their physician ratings can result in inappropriate or unnecessary care may be unjustified.

The study has been posted online by the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

As healthcare organizations across the United States increasingly publicize their patient experience scores, some critics question whether such transparency undermines the quality of healthcare. They contend some physicians might agree to patient requests for unnecessary care or medications in an effort to drive up patient satisfaction scores and/or physician ratings, which can affect Medicare reimbursements for hospitals and providers.

In 2012, a national study by the University of California-Davis, titled The Cost of Satisfaction: A National Study of Patient Satisfaction, Health Care Utilization, Expenditures, and Mortality, suggested that an overemphasis on patient satisfaction could have unanticipated adverse effects.

“Public sharing of patient experience scores continues to gain traction and this practice remains somewhat controversial because of concerns some people have that this may inadvertently contribute to inappropriate care,” said Norifumi Kamo, MD, Internal Medicine, co-author of the Virginia Mason study.

Virginia Mason began prominently displaying patient comments and their satisfaction ratings of physicians on the organization’s public website in October 2015.

The objectives of the study, conducted between January 2015 and December 2017, were to determine whether measures of potentially inappropriate care changed following Virginia Mason’s sharing of patient satisfaction data and to examine the relationship between inappropriate care and provider ratings. The study included 475,154 patient primary care visits, with 10,888 completed patient surveys for 74 Virginia Mason providers. It focused on magnetic resonance imaging for uncomplicated low back pain; use of antibiotics for treatment of acute respiratory illness; and narcotic prescribing for non-cancer patients.

The researchers found no association between those episodes of care and provider ratings.

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