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April 18, 2017

To find a safer hospital, Yelp can help—to an extent, study says

Daily Briefing

Yelp scores are a reliable way for patients to compare hospital quality—but the review site shouldn't be patients' only guide to selecting the hospital for them, according to a report from the Manhattan Institute.

Study details

According to the report, Yelp in 2015 partnered with ProPublica to publish average wait times, communication quality scores, and readmission rates for more than 25,000 hospitals, nursing homes, and dialysis facilities.

The researchers noted that a prior study published in Health Affairs, found a link between Yelp reviews and Medicare's Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems scores. However, according to the researchers, no study had examined how accurate Yelp reviews were for identifying the quality of physicians or hospitals.

So for the report, Manhattan Group researchers compared Yelp ratings of New York hospitals with the hospitals' performance on potentially preventable patient readmissions (PPR) as determined by the state Department of Health.

Higher Yelp ratings correlated with better-quality hospitals

The researchers found that New York hospitals that scored better on Yelp were more likely to have lower PPR rates. The researchers wrote, "We find that higher Yelp ratings are correlated with better-quality hospitals and that they provide a useful, clear, and reliable tool for comparing the quality of different facilities as measured by [PPR], a widely accepted metric."

Paul Howard—director of health policy at the Manhattan Institute and a coauthor of the study—said Yelp reviews are most likely to come from patients who had especially good or especially bad experiences, but he noted that users can look at the comments in the reviews to further evaluate whether a review is relevant to them.

But the researchers cautioned that "Yelp alone is not, nor can it be, the only guide to quality hospitals." 

Empowering consumers

The researchers said while New York provides consumers with annual reports on quality data for certain procedures, such as cardiac surgery, those reports are often technical and hard for patients to understand. According to the researchers, the report's findings provide an opportunity for New York policymakers, private and public employers, and the Yelp website to aid consumers who are trying to navigate the health care system via three steps:

  1. Make Yelp scores more visible and accessible when consumers are weighing important health care decisions, such as when they are comparing insurers' hospital networks on the state's insurance exchange;
  2. Link quality metrics onto the Yelp review page for hospitals so that patients can access more detailed information to complement and better inform the Yelp ratings; and
  3. Fund hackathons to explore how to make Yelp more accessible for high-needs, vulnerable populations, such as caregivers for frail, elderly, or low-income populations.

According to Howard, a balance needs to be struck that empowers consumers. "People are going to have to make more decisions about when and where to access care," he said. "'Dr. Google' is the first place consumers look for health information. Whether we like this or not, this train has left the station" (Ehley, Politico Pro [subscription required], 4/12; LaMantia, Crain's New York Business/Modern Healthcare, 4/12; Howard/Feyman, Manhattan Institute report abstract, 4/12).

Build patient and consumer loyalty

The word "consumer" hasn't been in the health care lexicon for long. Yet it's undeniable that today's patients have more places than ever to shop around for health care. Getting patients in the door—and keeping them coming back—means providing both a 21st century consumer experience and a top-notch patient experience.

To build loyalty, you must understand a person's need as a patient and as a consumer. Our infographic outlines three key values to win them over.


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