A CMS Hospital Star Ratings Update is Coming. Are You Ready?

This month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will refresh the Overall Hospital Star Ratings on its Care Compare website. The update follows a recent delay due to a calculation error, but the system has been challenged with years of methodology tweaks.

Though some critics remain uncertain of the rating system’s effectiveness, including the American Hospital Association, it’s often hailed as one of the industry’s most notable—and noticeable –advancements in transparency. The ratings (one to five stars) indicate how facilities perform when it comes to quality, care delivery and patient experience.

Why Star Ratings Matter to Your Brand

The number of stars your hospital receives can affect how your stakeholders perceive your credibility as a provider. Ratings can spur questions from patients, internal teams, local media and community members, and can even become the subject of Google reviews and social media commentary. Low ratings can deter prospective employees and, potentially, clinical partners, while high ratings can be viewed as a stamp of approval.

Regardless of issues with methodology, the influence these ratings can leverage is immense. It can be difficult and time-consuming to explain the nuances of a system that combines countless pieces of data into one star rating but it’s worth the effort to ensure your team is prepared and your reputation remains intact.

Understand Your Data

Star ratings reflect a range of data measurements reported to CMS, including mortality and readmission rates, indications of timeliness and effectiveness of care, and results of patient surveys. But some data may be many years old and may not reflect your hospital’s current, real-time quality efforts. For many smaller rural and critical access hospitals, some data measures may be missing completely because they simply don’t have enough patients in a specific category to qualify.

For all these reasons it’s crucial for marketing and communications departments to work with their hospital’s Chief Quality Officer and their team during data preview periods – typically a few months in advance of the formal release on Care Compare – to understand what data is reflected for your hospital during the reporting period and how it may or may not align with or reflect your current efforts.

Build and Own Your Story

Disappointed in your rating? Take the opportunity to put it into larger context. The hospital may have made significant improvements in the period since the data was submitted. Focus on what you’ve achieved more recently using data and quality measures that prove your point.

Pleased with your rating? Celebrate it and share how you’re continuing to raise the bar on quality care performance.

In both cases, take the opportunity to reiterate recent achievements and improvements not necessarily related to star ratings. These can include awards and accolades, capital investments, newly recruited specialists or clinical leaders, or other positive ratings your hospital has received from organizations such as HealthGrades or The LeapFrog Group (if you participate) or those from your state hospital association.

Engage and arm your advocates with this information as ratings are posted to help spread your messages and own your narrative. And remember that personal references and testimonials are often more powerful – and positively influential – than complicated rating systems.

Whether you are looking for innovative ways to market how your organization stands out nationwide thanks to your new star rating or need help adding valuable context to a rating you believe misrepresents your story, Lovell is here to serve as your communications partner. Our experienced team works with your organization to increase brand recognition, promote your providers and leaders as industry experts, and provide strategic reputation management.

Whatever the challenges or opportunities your star rating presents, we can help. Contact us at info@lovell.com.