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Wisdom of the Experts Versus Opinions of the Crowd in Hospital Quality Ratings: Analysis of Hospital Compare Star Ratings and Google Star Ratings

J Med Internet Res. 2022 Jul 26;24(7):e34030. doi: 10.2196/34030.


BACKGROUND: Popular web-based portals provide free and convenient access to user-generated hospital quality reviews. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) also publishes Hospital Compare Star Ratings (HCSR), a comprehensive expert rating of US hospital quality that aggregates multiple measures of quality. CMS revised the HCSR methods in 2021. It is important to analyze the degree to which web-based ratings reflect expert measures of hospital quality because easily accessible, crowdsourced hospital ratings influence consumers’ hospital choices.

OBJECTIVE: This study aims to assess the association between web-based, Google hospital quality ratings that reflect the opinions of the crowd and HCSR representing the wisdom of the experts, as well as the changes in these associations following the 2021 revision of the CMS rating system.

METHODS: We extracted Google star ratings using the Application Programming Interface in June 2020. The HCSR data of April 2020 (before the revision of HCSR methodology) and April 2021 (after the revision of HCSR methodology) were obtained from the CMS Hospital Compare website. We also extracted scores for the individual components of hospital quality for each of the hospitals in our sample using the code provided by Hospital Compare. Fractional response models were used to estimate the association between Google star ratings and HCSR as well as individual components of quality (n=2619).

RESULTS: The Google star ratings are statistically associated with HCSR (P<.001) after controlling for hospital-level effects; however, they are not associated with clinical components of HCSR that require medical expertise for evaluation such as safety of care (P=.30) or readmission (P=.52). The revised CMS rating system ameliorates previous partial inconsistencies in the association between Google star ratings and quality component scores of HCSR.

CONCLUSIONS: Crowdsourced Google star hospital ratings are informative regarding expert CMS overall hospital quality ratings and individual quality components that are easier for patients to evaluate. Improvements in hospital quality metrics that require expertise to assess, such as safety of care and readmission, may not lead to improved Google star ratings. Hospitals can benefit from using crowdsourced ratings as timely and easily available indicators of their quality performance while recognizing their limitations and biases.

PMID:35881418 | DOI:10.2196/34030

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