UC Berkeley graduate students develop hospital-ranking app

Screenshot 2014-09-02 20.10.56
MyBestHospital.com/Courtesy

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A group of graduate students from the UC Berkeley School of Information have developed an app to help patients find medical services catered to their specific needs.

With the app, “My Best Hospital,” users have the ability to evaluate hospitals nationwide based on four different measures by using a sliding-scale interface aggregated from publicly available data. Graduate students Christopher Walker, Rahul Bansal, Lisa Kirch and Joe Morales created the app as a project for a summer course in the Master of Information and Data Science program.

“We came to the realization that everybody has a different idea of what is important to them in a hospital,” Walker said in an email. “For example, I might have a great deal of anxiety about medical procedures and care most about the friendliness of the medical staff.”

Users who visit the site can input their city or zip code to locate hospitals nearby. They can then narrow results based on hospital type, teaching status and emergency services. The app then provides a ranking of hospitals based on the weight that users — utilizing sliding scales — place on efficiency, price, quality and satisfaction.

“We wanted to give people the ability to customize what was important to them — and at a pretty granular level,” Bansal said. “It really allows microcustomization at the user level.”

The developers based their scale on data provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which annually collect information about hospitals across the nation.

They ranked patient satisfaction using a 2013 survey of inpatients who rated their hospital stays, and they chose to measure quality by using hospital readmission rates.

“It made intuitive sense to us that a hospital that readmits more patients is more likely to have underlying issues in its quality of care,” Walker said.

Though for the purposes of the assignment, the site represents the finished product, both Walker and Bansal would like to make improvements, including a more polished interface. Bansal hopes to modify it from a web app into a mobile app that can be downloaded onto smartphones.

Carolyn Kemp, a Sutter Health East Bay regional manager, said the app does not provide any new services in comparison to other hospital-ranking websites such as Healthgrades and U.S. News and World Report.

Yet others in the health industry have contrasting opinions. Scott Young, the executive director of Kaiser Permanente’s Care Management Institute and a lecturer at the School of Information, called the sliding-scale method of weighing the importance of different factors “a novel way of looking at the information.”

“They put it together where it’s a little more understandable,” he said. “The data we get from the federal government, it’s really difficult for the average person to understand.”

Tahmina Achekzai is the lead research and ideas reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tahminachekzai.