One of the many tools families use in assessing children’s hospitals is the U.S. News & World Report hospital rankings. Industry leaders may write off the survey, citing intrinsic flaws such as data lag and an overreliance on brand image, but its use in patient education is widespread and impactful.
U.S. News & World Report established itself as a consumer protection and education watchdog in the early 1970s and has since developed a host of rankings—from cars to colleges to hospitals—to educate consumers. Its hospital ranking began in 1990. By 2001, the independent survey had established a public perception of being unbiased and was broadly accepted and used to make decisions. This perception of validity influences the brand of a hospital or health system. Thankfully, there are steps that can be taken to improve this score and, in turn, your ability to reach families.
How Children’s Hospitals Build Brand
Many children’s hospitals need to draw patients regionally for financially viability, particularly free-standing hospitals without a system affiliation. One consistent challenge in developing regional patient draw is establishing a strong, recognizable brand.
The goal of branding is to create a consistent perception of what a company stands for and the quality a consumer can expect in interactions, care, and affiliated products. A hospital’s reputation helps attract patients, qualified staff, and physician referrals. Influencing the brand requires understanding the components that underpin a successful interaction from a potential patient’s and referring physician’s point of view: consistency and excellence in quality care and patient experience.
The Changing Customer Review Management Landscape
In the past, consumers relied on word of mouth and prior experiences to form their opinions. Now consumer perceptions are increasingly driven by online review tools, which added a more manageable consideration for establishing a brand. Patients use sites dedicated to rating physicians like Zocdoc, Healthgrades, RateMDs, and Vitals and pages like Google, Yahoo, Bing, Yelp, and Superpages to review hospitals. Ratings platforms are a key driver of patient perception and expectations.
U.S. News & World Report as a Metric-Driven Tool to Establish Trust
U.S. News & World Report is among the most widely recognized tools, and because the survey is quantifiable and uses consistent metrics year over year (unlike reviews), it is also the tool most within a hospital’s control. This tool is widely established for families to use in identifying the right children’s hospital for their specific needs. The survey has a well-established brand that is synonymous with quality and trust, a reputation that then becomes associated with individual hospitals on the list.
Including U.S. News & World Report in Your Strategic Planning
Children’s hospitals must connect the dots between quality improvement, customer reputation, and the bottom line. AlthoughU.S. News & World Report is only one piece of this puzzle, it is worth the investment. The report should be included in strategic planning efforts because of the trust consumers associate with the rankings and the ability to change scores with concerted efforts.
Improving Your U.S. News & World Report Score
Although challenging, improving your score does not require a significant overhaul. There are functionally two groupings of metrics: (1) outcome metrics and survey results and (2) operational assessment and capacity metrics. The metrics can be improved by strategically aligning and prioritizing ongoing initiatives to account for their impact on the U.S. News & World Report score—and thus on public perception. The more manageable, low-hanging fruit metrics can be quickly addressed by targeting key deficiencies. The ranking methodology can be further broken down into four key areas: outcomes, structure, process, and patient safety, as shown below.
To make a significant and rapid increase in your overall score, we recommend focusing on structure, as this category is objective in nature and accounts for 30% of the overall score. These metrics vary by specialty but can rapidly change between performance years. As such, the marginal effort required to align strategic planning with a key tool that drives public opinion is a worthwhile consideration for your hospital’s strategic planning efforts. This consideration is particularly impactful in specialties in which families are highly invested in facility selection and committed to researching the proper choice. As your organization drives toward reaching more families and patients and establishing a positive reputation, we recommend including the evaluation of U.S. News& World Report rankings as part of your overall brand management strategy. See detailed breakouts of the U.S. News & World Report methodologies below.
Next Steps for Your Organization
U.S. News & World Report is just one aspect of the overall strategy for children’s hospitals. Learn more about the market forces shaping the children’s hospital and pediatric care ecosystem and key imperatives for the decade ahead in our most recent whitepaper.