Online rating sites are useful tools to help predict the best outcomes when choosing a hospital, according to a new study by the Manhattan Institute.
Reviews on Yelp closely correlate with other best-outcome measures and other more detailed informational sites and surveys, the study found.
The genesis of the study was that there are lots of social media outlets, and a lot of them review all sorts of businesses, Yevgeniy Feyman, an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute who co-authored the study with Paul Howard, a senior fellow and director of health policy at the institute, said.
To find out if Yelp was helpful when choosing a hospital, the authors looked at the ratings for hospitals in New York.
"There is some research that these ratings correlate with medical outcomes and other surveys," Feyman told Patient Daily, "But we did not know if this trend was true over multiple years."
"We did not want to name and shame, but just to understand how Yelp, and more generally social media, is useful in finding out the best outcomes," Feyman said. "Our overall conclusion is that Yelp ratings do correlate meaningfully with hospital outcomes as part of a bigger set of measures. It is a useful tool."
The study looked at the number of stars for hospitals included in New York insurance networks. The researchers also looked at the readmission rates and other surveys.
Feyman said there are big differences in the quality of hospitals even in a 20-block radius in New York. And people are making hugely important decisions to decide where they wish to receive a hip replacement or a delivery.
The choice is, of course, dependent on a patient's insurance plan, whether they work for a small company, which is a more likely to offer a narrower network, than a large company such as IBM, Feyman said.
But, overall, if a patient uses Yelp and chooses based on the better review numbers, he or she will likely end up at a higher quality facility.
The authors caution that Yelp cannot and should not be used as the only guide to hospitals, but that it is a good jumping off point. "Clean and easy to understand. That is what Yelp does. Average rating really helps, but you need to do more research," Feyman said.
Feyman and Howard said Yelp itself and policymakers can take a number of steps to make the social media tool more effective.
They recommend making Yelp scores and reviews more visible when consumers are making important decisions, for example when choosing among competing insurers’ hospital networks on New York state’s health-insurance exchange.
The also recommended linking objective, simple quality metrics onto the Yelp review page for hospitals to allow patients with specific concerns to access more detailed information.
And the authors say funding could be made available to fund targeted “hackathons” that find ways to make Yelp and other social media reviews more accessible to high-needs, vulnerable populations – including caregivers for the frail, elderly, non-English-speaking, or low-income minority populations.