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Facebook isn’t just for people anymore. Charities, jewelry stores, coffee shops, and even cats have active Facebook profiles. Hospitals may seem like the last place for social media to thrive, but some have decided to jump on the bandwagon. A new study set out to study hospitals’ Facebook pages to see if the number of “likes” were associated with hospital quality and patient satisfaction. Survey says: Facebook likes may be an indicator of patient satisfaction and a lower mortality rate.

What’s the Deal?

While Facebook doesn’t seem like the most scientific outlet for measuring patient satisfaction, this small, localized study published in the American Journal of Medical Quality, wanted to see if “liking” a hospital’s page meant people actually liked the hospital’s care. The verdict: Online satisfaction — measured by a click of the thumbs up icon — was positively correlated with patient satisfaction measured by more traditional surveys. Perhaps more startling is the relationship between Facebook likes and mortality. A decrease in hospitals’ mortality rates showed a higher average of likes in the sample size.

To generate the list of hospitals — the 82 hospitals located within 25 miles of New York City — the researchers used the HHS Hospital Compare Website, which compares the quality of care at over 4,000 hospitals across the country. Out of the 82 hospitals in the New York metropolitan area, 40 of them operated active Facebook pages — with a wide range of friends, sense of community, and amount of days on the social media platform. The research team then used the Hospital Compare Website evaluate the 30-day mortality rates of heart attack patients. They also counted up the number of people who reported “yes” they would “definitely recommend the hospital.”

The researchers explain that these two measures were the most complete variables (data was missing for only 5 hospitals that had Facebook Pages). Several preceding studies suggest 30-day mortality rates can be a powerful tool to assess overall hospital qualityThe hospital standardised mortality ratio: a powerful tool for Dutch hospitals to assess their quality of care? Jarman, B., Pieter, D., van der Veen, A.A., et al. Dr. Foster Unit, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London. Quality & Safety in Health Care, 2010 Feb;19(1):9-13.Mortality as a measure of quality implications for palliative and end-of-life care. Holloway, R.G., Quill, T.E. Journal of the American Medical Association, 2007;298(7):802-804.. And this study suggests that just a small decrease in 30-day mortality corresponds with almost 93 more Facebook likes.

The researchers adjusted the data based on other variables related to the hospitals and their Facebook pages, bed count, the number of days each Facebook page was active, and percentage of page administrator response. Though there were some notable outliers, the majority of the hospital pages had just a few hundred likes, which is likely fewer than your friend’s dog has racked up in the last year.

Is It Legit?

Big picture, probably not. According to the American Hospital Association, there are 5,724 Hospitals registered in the U.S. So the study’s sample of just NYC hospitals may not be telling of hospitals in San Francisco, Chicago, or the hospitals near your hometown. And it’s possible New York City patients have a bigger presence on Facebook. Another important factor was age. The Hospital Compare survey is administered to recently discharged patients whose average age is likely much older than the average Facebook user (40.5-years-old as of last summer).

At the end of the day, this study is a very small look into social media’s role in health care and how platforms like Facebook can be used as tools to measure consumer quality (not just to keep in touch with those friends from study abroad in Florence or Uncle Bob from Boise, ID).Another factor to consider is that not all Facebook users slap a big thumbs up on a page because they truly like it, often because they’d rather not be bombarded with news feed updates. Plus (as the study’s researchers discuss in their report) Facebook pages for hospitals may be a reflection of heavy public relations influence rather than hospital quality. So can Facebook likes be an accurate proxy for hospital care satisfaction? Likely, no.

Would you “like” a hospital on Facebook? Do you think the study’s findings are legitimate? Let us know in the comment section below or tweet the author @nicmcdermott.