Validation or falsity? What hospital marketing chiefs think of US News rankings

As medical schools and now health systems have withdrawn from the U.S. News & World Report rankings, hospital chief marketing officers have differing opinions on how much these recognitions matter.

Some marketing leaders say the rankings are a valuable tool for consumers and a deserved honor for leading hospitals, while others call them misleading and incomplete.

"At Houston Methodist we are fortunate to have a long history of providing excellent patient care, and our reputation has always benefited from that," Laura Lopez, the health system's senior vice president of marketing and communications, told Becker's. "We know that the U.S. News designations validate this success for consumers and patients when they are looking for the best care available to them."

Houston Methodist was named the 15th-best hospital in the country and No. 1 in Texas in the 2022-23 U.S. News rankings. "We know we are leading, but U.S. News helps prove this externally, giving us another marketing tool to help validate the strength of our brand," Ms. Lopez said.

While health systems often tout where they stand in the rankings and use them in their marketing communications, some organizations have begun to push back against U.S. News over its methodology. Bethlehem, Pa.-based St. Luke's University Health Network withdrew its participation in May, calling the rankings "seriously flawed," followed by Philadelphia-based University of Pennsylvania Health System in June. Those moves came after more than a dozen medical schools stopped cooperating with the publication in 2023.

"Penn State College of Medicine chose long ago not to participate in U.S. News rankings for medical schools," said Sean Young, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Hershey, Pa.-based Penn State Health. "Through the tenure of at least four College of Medicine deans, dating back nearly 25 years, the consensus among our leadership has been that the methodology employed by U.S. News is insufficient to provide an accurate and complete picture of the quality of individual medical schools, let alone offer a fair and balanced means to compare medical schools against one another."

It's unknown whether the institutions' lack of cooperation will have much of an effect, however. The rankings mostly rely on public data anyway. The only adult healthcare service line where hospitals can complete a survey is maternity care.

Brian Deffaa, chief marketing officer of Baltimore-based LifeBridge Health, said third-party rankings can act as helpful shortcuts, particularly in this digital age, for consumers trying to educate themselves or seek care for themselves or loved ones. But, he asked, are rankings like U.S. News truly reflective of how health systems provide care, outcomes and patient experience?

"When we look at the myriad of methodologies used to assess data, as well as the age and source of the data itself, we believe it often paints a partial picture at best and an inaccurate one at worst," Mr. Deffaa said. "I think the pushback you're seeing is a result of health systems' frustration at a ranking that doesn't align with what is observed and tracked firsthand."

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