The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, hoping to provide consumers with more usable information, is employing anachronistic thinking. If agency officials believe the threat of negative branding will scare facilities to do the “right thing,” the world may as well be flat.

Last week brought the announcement that skilled nursing facilities with a single recent citation for abuse, neglect or exploitation would be branded with a red hand — essentially a “do not proceed” icon — on Nursing Home Compare. The alerts are set to become active on Oct. 23, despite widespread industry criticism.

CMS needs to modernize and abandon the “kicking-the-dog” strategy of focusing on the negative. Instead, the agency should promote best practices with a green “thumbs up” award for outstanding performance in specific areas.

These could include information on consumer satisfaction, readmissions and other specific quality measures. Highlight the best, and expect that, in a competitive industry, the good will get better and the better will strive to be the best.  

In the pursuit of perfection, one achieves excellence. Excellent providers are never satisfied with good, which is the enemy of great. 

Here are two ideas for positive reinforcements that could also help inform consumers:

A JD Powers-like award: Follow the lead of the highly respected marketing information group and create a customer satisfaction “index” that measures consumer ratings of specific areas and their relative importance. Combined, they would create an overall numerical index score that determines which companies, brands or sites are exceptional. 

A Net Promoter score: This benchmark is widely used to track brand loyalty. An index ranging from -100 to 100 measures the willingness of customers to recommend a company’s products or services to others. It is used as a proxy for gauging the customer’s overall satisfaction with a company’s product or service and the customer’s loyalty to the brand.

These are two simple ideas that have already worked for consumers and businesses for decades by relying on the end user, the consumer (or their representative). They are simple, effective and easy to implement. 

They are based on consumer input, not the vagaries of human surveyors showing up once a year to review “reportables.” That’s shooting fish in a barrel. 

Finally, the agency must stick with consistency.

As federal officials change their goal posts, as CMS did this past April, and, as it intends to do in the future, more confusion creeps in. By adding more icons and warnings and focusing on the sub-optimal, Nursing Home Compare will become a vestigial token of government aspirations derailed.

Honey works better than vinegar.

Paul T. Liistro is Managing Partner of Arbors of Hop Brook Continuing Care Retirement Community in Manchester, CT; Manchester Manor Health Care Center in Manchester, CT; and Vernon Manor Health Center in Vernon, CT. He is past president of Qualidigm, Quality Improvement Organization for Connecticut, a former member of the American Health Care Association’s Board of Governors, and immediate past president of the Board of Directors for the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities.