CMS star ratings — what do they mean for you?
CMS (The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) has added long-awaited star ratings to its Hospital Compare website. Now, when consumers and healthcare professionals turn to the site to learn about patients’ experiences at local hospitals, they will also see a summary star rating for each of the three hospitals they select to compare.
CMS star ratings represent an interesting enhancement to CMS’ website, one that brings the way that information about hospital/inpatient performance is presented more in line with how CMS compares patient ratings for Medicare health plans, nursing homes, home health care, and dialysis facilities. Their introduction signals that CMS has achieved its “one number” goal, which means that the agency has managed to distill the results of its 30-plus question survey down to a single number.
To calculate the new ratings, CMS star ratings rolls up the scores from all 11 publicly reported HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) dimensions. In Hospital Compare’s explanation of the new ratings, CMS says that, “HCAHPS star ratings allow consumers to more easily compare hospitals using a five-star scale, with more stars indicating better quality care.”
Maybe the new CMS star ratings summary measure will drive more consumers to the Hospital Compare website because it makes basic comparisons easier for consumers to understand and evaluate. PRC’s 2014 National Consumer Study reported that only about 2% of healthcare decision-makers had ever used the Hospital Compare website — and that this number has actually seen a small decline since PRC began measuring Hospital Compare use in 2010.
CMS' star ratings clearly still have a lot of work to do to attract the primary audience they seek: patients who are looking for quality inpatient care. However, we are also seeing for the first time that the Internet, in general, has surpassed the family doctor as the second most common source of information about healthcare providers (behind friends and relatives). As more and more consumers turn to the Internet for information, it is increasingly important that they find valid information about healthcare services that is easy to understand. So PRC certainly applauds and appreciates CMS’ efforts to address both of those needs.
But those of us in the industry have to remember to keep our feet on the ground and avoid being blinded by the stars. Even CMS cautions that, “It is important that you consider multiple factors when making decisions about your healthcare and comparing hospitals.” When hospitals think about their reputation and what people are saying about them, the voices heard most often still continue to be those of prospective patients’ friends and relatives.
About a third of healthcare consumers surveyed in PRC’s 2014 National Consumer Study shared that friends and relatives are their primary source of information about local doctors and hospitals. That percentage has been steady for the past eight years. The implications are clear. Hospitals must make sure that every patient has an excellent experience, that every patient feels that his or her personal needs were understood and addressed, and that every patient has a positive story to tell.
And they WILL tell that story. Of consumers nationwide who have a preferred hospital, 85% acknowledged that they have said nice things about this hospital to someone else. In fact, 85% of consumers who were hospitalized within the past year and who rated their care as “Excellent” also rated their likelihood to recommend the hospital in which they were treated as a 9 or 10.
We all continually seek new ways of sharing information with our audience, whether that audience is c-suite executives, front-line care providers or healthcare consumers in our community. When we have information to offer, it must be understandable to be valuable, and PRC is pleased to see that CMS shares this philosophy. For hospitals, though, the key to growth continues to be word of mouth — the positive stories patients are telling their friends and relatives about how wonderfully they were treated.
So, don’t go chasing stars. Instead, focus on delivering patient experiences that will turn into the kinds of genuine, heartfelt stories that “wow” friends and family and bring patients through your doors. At some point, CMS star ratings will just naturally fall into your lap.
Further questions about CMS star ratings? Please contact us.