Report: Good Yelp reviews predicted postive outcomes at New York hospitals

By Jonah Comstock

The Yelp for doctors that consumers have been waiting for might just be Yelp itself, according to a new report from the Manhattan Institute released last week and presented today at Health Datapalooza in Washington, DC. The report was funded by the New York State Health Foundation.

Researchers looked at a sample of 200-to-300 New York State hospitals, comparing their scores on Yelp with data on preventable readmissions and mortality from the New York Department of Health's Statewide Planning and Research Cooperative System (SPARCS) database. They compared data from the same year as well as comparing current scores to the previous year's reviews.

"The results of our analysis suggest that Yelp ratings are useful and reliable, on their own, for comparing the quality, as measured by risk-adjusted, potentially preventable readmissions (PPR), of different hospitals," coauthors Paul Howard and Yevgeniy Feyman wrote in the report.

The research is important, Howard and Feyman wrote, because in the current status quo healthcare consumers have very limited information easily available to them about the quality of different hospitals. It should also serve to reassure doctors, who might worry that Yelp is disseminating misinformation.

"We do not argue that Yelp alone is, or can be, the only guide to quality hospitals," Howard and Feynman wrote. "However, when people can choose where they will obtain care — as do patients with traditional Medicare coverage for elective or planned surgeries, or when consumers can choose among insurance options — Yelp ratings can provide a helpful guide. Indeed, when patients seek out specialists for surgical or other hospital procedures, these specialists’ hospital privileges could factor in their decisions, supplementing the more traditional system of referrals. This tool will get even better at helping patients identify quality institutions and physicians as the number of Yelp’s hospital and provider reviews increases."

Yelp has worked to improve its healthcare scores in recent years, partnering with ProPublica in 2015 to add data and statistics from both ProPublica's own research and CMS to its medical reviews. Yelp also teamed up with the California HealthCare Foundation in 2017 to provide care quality data for maternity wards in California.

In a list of recommendations, the Manhattan Institute suggested more partnerships like this could serve to make Yelp an even more useful resource. They also suggest including Yelp ratings on things like insurance exchange provider directories to help consumers have the most information when they need it.