Do external health system awards really matter?

award stars | Core Health

The answer may surprise you

Consumers don’t care about a health system’s external awards, right? Well, not necessarily.

That’s one thing we learned as part of Core Health’s inaugural research study, “Perspectives in Health and Healthcare.” This research was designed to identify key drivers of healthcare choice so our clients – healthcare marketers – could leverage this information when branding and positioning their health systems.

The study was conducted in partnership with Cheryl Stone & Associates as a nationwide, online panel survey from Oct. 25, to Nov. 5, 2018. A total of 1,501 interviews were completed with a confidence level of 95%. Quotas were used to ensure replication of the U.S. population.

As part of the study, we assessed six drivers of healthcare choice consumers were asked to evaluate as part of our research study. These drivers included innovation, performance and results; caring and compassion; a care experience personalized to meet needs and preferences; a focus on wellness and prevention; and convenience.

The most important symbol of quality in a health system is “professional ratings such as star ratings or a high rank relative to other health systems.” However, it is also important to address symbols that smaller segments considered very important, such as consumer ratings or external appearance of facilities, in order to reach all segments of the market.

Consumers most value external ratings as symbols of health system quality

When asked, “What is important in showing you that a health system is innovative?” respondents ranked professional ratings by Healthgrades, U.S. News & World Report or other ratings services as the largest symbol of quality for health systems. Other highly ranked symbols of quality included the external appearance of facilities and the size of a health system (relative to the number of locations). A smaller percentage, 26%, found consumer/patient ratings (e.g. ratings on Yelp! Facebook and other social media) to be very important.

Why do consumers value external ratings as the most important symbol of quality? While our research didn’t dive this deeply, our experience suggests that:

  • External ratings help provide differentiation and clarity about which health system is performing well and this third party is able to do it in a way that is perceived more credible than a health system.
  • External rating agencies have invested significant dollars into developing their own brand awareness. As a result, consumers are likely to trust brands like U.S. News & World Report and Healthgrades, in spite of the inherent flaws that sometimes exist within rating methodology.
  • Consumer-oriented external ratings agencies help facilitate healthcare consumerism. These agencies make it easy to compare and contrast hospital services, ratings and scores in an otherwise largely monochromatic world.

Signage visibility is the least important measured indicator of health system quality

Consumers were least likely to rate visibility (defined as seeing a logo or name on buildings throughout the community) as a symbol of quality. It is possible that visibility could serve as more of a subliminal indicator of quality.

Performance and results matter even more to Southerners, and to those over 65

Performance and results emerged as the top driver for consumer choice across the board, but those in the South and Americans older than 65 are even more likely to choose a healthcare provider based on this criteria.

While respondents older than 65 are more likely to rate performance and results as very important, those ages 21-44 are significantly more likely to search for this information prior to using care.

Those aged 65 and older were significantly more likely than others to believe that an integrated health system offers a big advantage. (The following details opinion regarding performance/results.)

It’s important that they have the best reviews so I know I’m getting the best doctors in the area.

It matters to me if the facility is well maintained. It gives me more confidence when I go there

In order to understand the degree of quality variance perceived by consumers, respondents were asked to rate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the following statements. More consumers believe there is a wide range of quality variance.

Importance of Performance and Results of an Integrated Health System

Strongly agree Agree somewhat
I feel there is a wide range of quality among the healthcare providers in my area
All licensed healthcare providers and facilities offer a basic level of quality that is sufficient for most of my healthcare needs.
The only time I would research the quality of a healthcare provider or facility is if I or a family member needed highly specialized care for a serious or complex condition.
I always search for/use the most qualified provider/facility for each type of healthcare I need – even if I have to go out of my way, pay a little more or use a different health system.

Implications of this data

Performance and results is just one of the key drivers assessed as part of Core Health’s inaugural research study. Download the complete white paper here to learn how other key drivers performed.


Stephanie Burton, APR is the Director of Healthcare Marketing at Core Health.


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