Does the number of "likes" a hospital has on its Facebook page say something about its quality of care or patient satisfaction? According to one recent study, yes.

The authors of a study last month in the American Journal of Medical Quality combed through the Facebook pages of 40 hospitals near New York City and found that likes have a strong negative association with 30-day mortality rates, and a positive association with patient recommendations. Waves of young patients are gathering health care info from social media, especially Facebook, the study notes, and yet only about 49 percent of hospitals in the New York area have a Facebook page.

The authors of the report say that many in the industry believe Facebook could be a "new frontier" of communication between providers and patients.

"Millions of people in the United States use Facebook. The social network has emerged as an important tool for hospitals to use to communicate with their communities," the report states. "This study's findings suggest that the number of ‘likes' on a hospital's Facebook page can be used as a proxy for patient satisfaction and an indicator of hospital quality."

Here are some other findings from the study, authored by researchers from the Healthcare Innovation and Technology Lab, a think tank based in New York:

  • Researchers compared Health & Human Services data on both hospital 30-day mortality rates and patients who reported that they would "definitely recommend" the hospital. They found that a 1 percentage point increase in mortality equated to a 1.3 percentage point reduction in patient recommendations.
  • A 1-percentage point decrease in the 30-day mortality rate translated to almost 93 more Facebook likes.
  • If Facebook likes and patient satisfaction were perfect proxies, a 1-point increase in mortality would predict a 12.35-point reduction in patient satisfaction, though the model does not account for a large amount of variance.