Patients are increasingly likely to use Yelp to rate their care experience and pick a provider, but not all providers have welcomed the influx of anonymous online reviews with open arms.
Often, patients prefer Yelp's narrative text reviews to other star-based ratings systems, and according to a Manhattan Institute report, Yelp reviews actually correlate with Medicare surveys such as the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS).
"We're moving to a health system where patient ratings are becoming more important, where top down ratings are really inaccessible to patients and probably not that useful," said Yevgeniy Feyman, coauthor of Manhattan Institute report "Yelp for Health."
He argued that the healthcare industry needs to be more responsive to patients, rather than push them to use existing platforms that might be antiquated or too rigorous.
But a number of industry professionals expressed skepticism over the authenticity and depth of reviews left on the platform at a panel at the industry Health Datapalooza conference.
Online reviews are impacting providers businesses. Andrea Ducas, a senior program officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, noted that 83% of people in a 2016 survey who read patient reviews online said the reviews influence their choice of provider. She noted providers are taking actions to take charge of the narrative.
"There are some providers who are trying to get ahead of the curve and post reviews directly on their website," Ducas said. "Another thing they can do is encourage their patients to read some reviews online and invite them to leave feedback. That's a radical invitation but it's certainly something they can do."
In a recent Binary Fountain survey, 95% of respondents said online ratings and reviews are “somewhat” or “very” reliable and 75% said such sites had helped sway their choice of doctor.
Some questioned how accurate Yelp reviews are for identifying quality providers, given patients are often more motivated to leave a review after an extreme experience, and sometimes negative reviews have nothing to do with the provider themselves.
Luther Lowe, Yelp's vice president of public policy and government affairs, assured that while the site is designed to empower consumers, it has processes that filter spam and quell suspicious activity daily. At the end of the day, patients are often more savvy and conscientious of spam than the industry may think.
And the topics that matter most to them are often simple. Ducas said the top five things patients care about while picking a provider are:
- Treats patients with respect.
- Accepts insurance.
- Shares in decision-making.
- Responsiveness to phone calls.
- Professional skill.
While there's evidence that HCAHPS ratings correlate with better outcomes, Feyman said, there's also evidence that it's too formulaic and tells patients what they want.
One professional in the room argued that "formulaic" is just another word for "standardized." Feyman responded that Yelp shouldn't be the only measure of hospital quality, but rather can be used to compliment existing measures.
"You have a pretty decent shot at finding a relatively better hospital than if you were going in blind. The implication here is you'd do pretty well if you were just using Yelp ratings as a way of finding good quality hospitals," Feyman said. "There aren't a massive amount of fake reviews or [reviews from] people who have never been to a hospital. If you're a patient and you don't really have access to reliable measures of quality of care, this is a pretty good resource to go to."
Online reviews should not be taken lightly, as ratings can directly impact a provider's bottom line and brand. Last year, Chicago-based nonprofit Saint Anthony Hospital sued Leapfrog for defamation after its safety grade dropped from A to C. Similarly, an Ohio plastic surgeon filed a defamation lawsuit after a patient wrote anonymous online reviews reflecting poorly on the doctor’s work, and a recent analysis from consulting firm Sullivan, Cotter and Associates and Modern Healthcare found the CMS star rating system unfairly favors specialty hospitals over major teaching hospitals.