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Leveraging Twitter for Insights on Patient Experience

By Marianne@example.com  
   November 04, 2015

Hospital marketers can use Twitter and other social media tools in conjunction with HCAHPS and other surveys to paint a clearer picture of the organization's quality and patient experience performance.

If you've ever read the comment section on a YouTube video, you know just how brutally honest social media users can be. The anonymity that the internet affords often leads to people posting harsher opinions than they would say aloud in their everyday life, and countless online trolls have made a hobby of being downright cruel.


But researchers at Boston Children's Hospital have found the candid opinions expressed on social media—specifically on Twitter—may provide hospitals with valuable insight when it comes to measuring quality and patient experience.

The study, "Measuring patient-perceived quality of care in US hospitals using Twitter," published in the October issue of BMJ Quality & Safety, broke down 400,000 public tweets directed at the Twitter handles of almost 2,400 hospitals in the U.S. between 2012 and 2013.

Though a variety of methods, 34,735 patient experience-related tweets directed at 1,726 hospital-owned Twitter accounts, were tagged. Researchers determined the sentiment of those tweets and sorted the tweets into topical categories.

"As healthcare is becoming more patient-centric, and outcome- and value-driven, it is increasingly important that we listen to the patient's voice," says Jared Hawkins, MMSc, PhD, faculty in Boston Children's Hospital's Computational Health Informatics Program (CHIP) and director of informatics for Boston Children's Innovation Acceleration Program.

"Our research group has used many novel data streams for public health research as part of our exploration of the digital phenotype. It became apparent to us that patients are using Twitter to discuss their experience receiving healthcare. We decided to conduct this study to see if we could capture this discussion and whether the content could be useful."  

Correlation with HCAHPS
The Children's Hospital research team hoped that the Twitter data would expand on the findings of HCAHPS and other quality surveys.

"Traditional quality surveys, while useful, have some major limitations: low response rates (and selection biases in those that do respond), targeted questions, and significant time lag before the results are available to the public," Hawkins says. "Twitter is an incredibly rich resource for unsolicited, real-time feedback that is accessible to anyone who wishes to have their voice heard?making it a perfect companion to traditional surveys."

Ideally, the research team would like to correlate Twitter data to outcome metrics that relate to quality of care, but they're not quite there, yet. When researchers compared their data with outcomes data on the Hospital Compare website, they found a weak negative correlation between tweet sentiment and hospitals' 30-day readmission rates. However, they didn't find a relationship between tweet sentiments and HCAHPS experience data.

Marianne Aiello is a contributing writer at HealthLeaders Media.

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