- "Told" is the single word most often associated with negative online hospital reviews, while "great" and "friendly" populate positive reviews, a new Penn Medicine study finds.
- The results underscore the need for providers to learn to communicate with patients through "caring language," the authors say.
- They also point to the use of digital tools and data analytics to help providers better understand and improve the patient experience.
Americans increasingly are going online to shop for healthcare and rate their experiences. In a Binary Foundation survey published last fall, 51% of respondents reported sharing their personal medical experiences on social media and online review sites. Among millennials, that rose to 70%. Meanwhile, 70% of respondents said their choice of doctor was influenced by online ratings and reviews and 41% said they checked doctors out online even when another physician referred them.
In this study, the researchers analyzed 51,376 reviews from 1,566 hospitals over a period of 12 years using machine learning and natural language processing. Among the 18.6% of reviews earning one star, "told" was the most highly correlated word — as in, "I constantly told them that none of that was true and the nurse there wouldn't believe me," according to the report.
Of the 10.9% of reviews with five stars, "friendly" appeared most often. The example the authors give is, "the doctors, nurses and x-ray technician who helped me out were all so cool and friendly. It really restored my faith in humanity after I got hit on my bike."
Other words frequently seen in bad online reviews include "worst," "hours," "rude," "said," "no" and "not." By contrast, "great," "friendly," "staff" and "very" pop up often in positive reviews.
Lead author Anish Agarwal, an emergency room physician and University of Pennsylvania National Clinician Scholars Program scholar, says the study's approach is similar to a canary in a coal mine.
As providers, "we need to take a moment to think about how we talk in hospitals … but also what patients are hearing," Agarwal told Healthcare Dive. "I may say something, but the way it's heard and interpreted and then processed within a patient when they're going through a vulnerable time can be different."
Some hospitals are attempting to make the most of online ratings, be they good or bad. Several years ago, Geisinger Health System began posting both positive and negative patient exit surveys online as a way of increasing transparency and highlighting areas for improvement. The reviews, which are scrubbed of personal information to keep them HIPAA compliant, are used to inspire and ground clinicians, according to the hospital chain.
The findings come as other surveys suggest patient concerns are broader than clinical care. In a recent analysis by Vanguard Communications & Healthcare Process Improvement, two-thirds of online reviewers of top-line hospitals gave middling to poor ratings on Yelp.com. But of those, 84% complained chiefly of nonclinical issues such as billing, poor follow-up communications and wait times. Most reviewers, even when unhappy with their overall experience, praised their doctors and quality of care.