Sun Life creates huge database of healthcare ratings

By Rosie Lombardi

chris-denysSun Life Financial Canada is harnessing the wisdom of crowds to create a massive database of authenticated client ratings of allied health professionals: psychologists, physiotherapists, and more. The company has developed a digital app that allows its millions of clients to rate the services they receive when they file their claims. “We’ve already amassed about half a million ratings since we launched last summer. When you look at other ratings mechanisms out there, this is by far the highest volume,” says Chris Denys (pictured), SVP, possibilities, digital health solutions, Sun Life Financial Canada.

The company set up its new Digital Health Solutions area to focus on ways Sun Life can use communications technology to help empower Canadians with better information around their health, explains Denys. “Our members said one of the big hurdles for using allied health services that are part of their healthcare plan is that they found it hard to find and choose allied providers like psychologists, massage therapists, chiropractors and so on.”

The app is straightforward and easy to use on the fly. At present, when clients file a claim digitally with Sun Life, they’re prompted to provide a simple 1-star to 5-star rating of the service they’ve received, which can then be searched and viewed by other clients searching for similar providers, he says.

The app tackles several issues identified by Sun Life’s clients. In surveys, they complained that most online rating sites only collect a few ratings for any given provider, if at all, which made choosing one difficult. “We’re collecting them at a rapid pace, about 100,000 ratings a month. We’ll be getting over a million a year going forward.”

Beyond the sheer size of the database, another advantage to Sun Life’s clients is the credibility of its database. “Another problem they cited with other online ratings sites is that they lacked confidence in online ratings. How do you know it’s not the providers themselves doing the rating, or how do you know if the reviewer actually used that service? People tell us that it’s the authenticity of our site that matters.”

Another issue is that most online sites often collect ratings from the minority of people who’ve had problems with a service, and not the majority of users. Sun Life’s database solves this problem as well.

“We get ratings from about 50 percent of the people who file claims, so it’s not just the people on the edges, really happy or really unhappy, who provide feedback. I think it’s a bit more of a balanced rating than you might get elsewhere.”

In the U.S., most health insurance companies are collecting ratings for medical doctors, not just allied health, and have done so for several years. “The States are years ahead of Canada in using digital tools. They have networks with ratings for primary care providers. But insurance companies aren’t involved in primary care in Canada, so it’s not the same here.”

Denys says the company may decide to share the ratings database with people outside their company, perhaps for a fee, but these are still early days. “We set up our Digital Health Solutions area a bit like a start-up within a big company. We’re operating on the “minimum viable product” principle, which a lot of healthcare start-ups do. It basically means you get something out there that’s useful to people, and then you figure out where to go from there, one step at a time.”

Sun Life will be considering adding new features to its ratings system based on this principle. “The first obvious area was to serve these ratings to our group members. We’re going to circle back and ask them what else would be helpful. Then we’ll figure out where we go next.”

Denys says the ratings system will be launched on its website in the near future, as the app was initially launched only as a mobile app. “Our ultimate goal is to empower Canadians to improve their health. The more information you have, the better choices you can make.”

For more information, visit