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Study Finds Yelp Reviews More Helpful Than Government Data

Next time you need a doctor will you check the HCAHPS? If you’re like me, you just said “what the heck is the HCAHPS?” And that’s precisely the point.

The Washington Post reported on a new study published in Health Affairs by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania that looked at 17,000 Yelp reviews of 1,352 hospitals and found that Yelp reviews can provide a broader sense of the facilities than the government survey, called the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Survey (or HCAHPS), that is widely regarded as the industry standard for patient feedback.

While the HCAHPS covers 11 main categories including communication with nurses and doctors, cleanliness and quietness, Yelp reviews give prospective patients insight into topics not covered by the government survey, including cost, amenities, scheduling, compassion, and more. HCAHPS also restricts feedback to only patients who were treated, while Yelp allows reviews from everyone affected by a healthcare incident, like the daughter who takes her elderly mother for treatment or the friend who stops by to visit a sick coworker.

While quality of treatment is obviously important, things like parking availability and the physician’s bedside manner also contribute to a great consumer experience, and Yelp is the best place to find that feedback.

The Penn research validates previous studies which have shown that high Yelp ratings for hospitals correlate with high ratings through the HCAHPS survey. The new research also confirmed that “hospitals with at least three Yelp reviews had Yelp ratings nearly identical to the more formal HCAHPS hospital rating.”

For consumers who already use Yelp to find restaurants, plumbers and salons, it makes sense they’d use Yelp to review healthcare businesses and other infrequent purchases, too. It’s a platform they’re already familiar with, unlike a government survey system, that does a good job of simplifying feedback and giving a personal perspective from other patients. Yelp also shows medical data like number of fines and waiting room times for 25,000 hospitals, nursing homes, and dialysis clinics across the US, making it easy to compare stats to real patient experiences all in the same place — the app people already have on their phone. Not only is it convenient for consumers, but the hospitals themselves are getting more actionable feedback thanks to Yelp reviews.

As the Penn researchers note, almost 75 percent of Americans looked for health information online in 2012. Almost half (42 percent) looked at online reviews, but only 6 percent even knew the HCAHPS existed.

So remember, not only can Yelp help you choose a cool bar for happy hour, but it’s also really reliable for more weighty decisions, like which hospital will do the best job of caring for your sick child.