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Fault in Your Stars? Be on the Right Side of the Debate

The ante for healthcare transparency officially went up today as CMS unveiled its new five-star quality rating system. For some health systems, this provides a welcome endorsement of all the hard work underway to provide and measure quality care. For others, however, these rankings present a communications and reputation challenge.

Three words should guide you as you craft your messaging: “Keep it positive.”

A defensive or argumentative tone can lead your audiences to question your credibility. “You can’t fight City Hall,” as the old saying goes, and we’d add “especially when City Hall is your largest payer.”

Some things to consider in messaging:

  • The quality/transparency movement is here to stay, as it should be. Above all else in your messaging, embrace it. What patient doesn’t want to know which hospital will provide the best care and experience?
  • Achieving optimal quality is a journey of improvement that you travel every day. Explain that in your messaging and commit to it.
  • Explain that CMS is on a journey, too. They’re working to find the best way to present quality measures to consumers. One challenge with the data, for example, is that it often reflects a reality from several years ago. This is the first time out of the box for the star system, and it too needs refinement.

We’re not suggesting that the main point of your response be to blame your ratings on bad data. Too much of that sounds like excuse-making. But, there is some educating to be done that can set the initial ratings in context.

  • Focus on action. No doubt your team has achievements in quality. Talk about them. Assure your audiences that you are on the case.
  • Talk about other quality metrics. Does more current data reflect improvements on the metrics? If so, present that data (at a high level or with easy graphics, getting in the weeds will make most of your audiences glaze over). Do ratings issued by other organizations reflect more favorably on your quality?