The study from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) is the first to correlate hospitals' Facebook ratings and common measure of quality care.

"Since user-generated social media feedback appears to be reflective of patient outcomes, hospitals and health care leaders should not underestimate social media's value in developing quality improvement programmes," said McKinley Glover, clinical fellow at MGH's department of radiology.

The investigators began by analysing data available from Hospital Compare - a website sponsored by the Centre for Medicare and Medicaid Services - on 30-day readmission rates for 4,800 US hospitals. Low readmission hospitals were more likely to have Facebook pages than high readmission hospitals - 93 percent versus 82 percent.

Comparison between the two groups revealed that each one-star increase in a hospital's Facebook rating was associated with a greater than five-fold increase in the likelihood that it would have a low, rather than a high readmission rate.

Other data available on hospital Facebook pages - including the number of times users reported visiting the hospital, how long a hospital's Facebook page had been available and the number of Facebook 'likes' - did not differ between the low and high readmission groups.

"As the use of social media has grown, consumers' health care decisions may be influenced by the information posted on social media sites by patients and others," the authors said.

The study was published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.


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