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Our lives are dominated by ratings systems – personally and professionally. In our personal life, crowdsourcing and wide internet access have changed how we select everything from dinner to a dry-cleaner to a movie.  In professional life, particularly for senior and health care, the increasing demand for standardized quality has made ratings a must.

Think about the evolution of ratings in your personal life. People used to turn to their friends and family for recommendations on new books – now sites like Amazon and GoodReads collect reviews and make bold statements about what you will and won’t like. Restaurateurs cower at the whims of social media-savvy “critics” on Yelp who have the power to make or break a new dining establishment with their one-to-five-star rating powers.  And who can forget the way that Roger Ebert helped cement the tradition of scoring movies in the four-star system – a decision he was actually rather ambivalent about.

Now, ratings systems are growing on a national scale in our professional worlds. They impact much more than our dinner selection: they impact our ability to deliver care, our relationships with customers, and our own life-or-death choices about how to age and stay independent.

In health care, CMS uses a star ratings system to rate Medicare Advantage plans on about 50 measures of clinical quality, patient experience and customer service. The program was started in 2010, but it is already evolving in importance; as of this year, the program is tying star ratings to significant bonus awards for insurers.

In senior care, the Five-Star System (also from CMS) grades nursing homes on health inspections, quality measures, and staffing, giving consumers a wide swath of information on the Nursing Home Compare site. And the existence of star-ratings is growing, not abating:, the web’s #1 source of senior care reviews, just announced an annual “Caring Stars” program that awards star-based ratings to the best assisted living providers in the nation – according to an amalgamation of consumer ratings and reviews. 

You might argue that the personal life ratings are consumer-based, and largely harmless. They’re an entirely different game from ratings systems in senior and health care, which impact people on a much deeper level. And I don’t disagree. But the consumerization of care is colliding with the demand for quality before our very eyes, and ratings systems are rising out of the dust as a clear result.

Some concern about ratings systems is warranted. When dealing in the less life-threatening space of movies and books, ratings systems are too reliant on opinions and personal experience. And when we move to the senior and health care spaces, there are huge questions about whether the ratings systems are reliable (see this and this).

But ultimately, I’ll argue that they’re a necessary evil.  Rife with inconsistency?  Yes.  Questionable at times?  Of course. And sometimes downright misleading?  Indeed.

But ratings systems are here to stay. And as the artificial barriers between “senior care” and “health care” continue to break down, these ratings systems might even begin to morph together and grow in importance.   As an industry, let’s celebrate the positive trend of demanding high-quality care that they reflect – and work together to make them better.

Shannon McIntyre is the Corporate Communications Manager at Intel-GE Care Innovations™.