Yelp reviews can lead consumers to high-quality hospitals, but organizations need to make better use of the ratings

High-quality hospitals can make better use of social media tools, like Yelp, to boost their ability to compete and attract market share, according to a new report.

The new paper by the Manhattan Institute examines the correlation between Yelp reviews of New York state hospitals and objective measures of hospital quality. Although healthcare providers have been skeptical about some hospital quality ranking systems because they don’t account for those that care for sicker patient populations, researchers say that Yelp scores are actually a good composite measure of hospital quality when using the metric of potentially preventable patient readmissions.

The biggest weakness of Yelp reviews may be that they are relatively new, write the Manhattan Institute’s Paul Howard, a senior fellow and director of health policy, and Yevgeniy Feyman, an adjunct fellow, in the report (PDF). But in the long run, they say, Yelp’s healthcare ratings, which are taking the place of word-of-mouth marketing between patients, are apt to become an even more valuable research tool as long as the reviews remain independent and user-generated.

“Yelp alone is not, nor can it be, the only guide to quality hospitals. However, when people can choose where they will obtain care, Yelp ratings can provide a helpful guide,” Howard and Feyman write. ”These ratings will get even better at helping people as the number of Yelp reviews increases.”

But organizations and policymakers can make better use of the reviews to help consumers navigate the healthcare system. "By disseminating neutral, clear signals about basic hospital quality, social media tools can also improve the ability of higher-quality hospitals to compete to attract market share, leading to more lives saved and more costs avoided for patients, taxpayers and employers," they write.

They recommend stakeholders:

  • Make Yelp scores and reviews more visible so consumers can easily access them when making important healthcare coverage decisions, such as choosing among competing insurer’s hospital networks on New York state’s health insurance exchange.
  • Link objective, simple quality metrics onto the Yelp review page for hospitals so patients with specific concerns can access more detailed information that would complement and better inform Yelp quality ratings.
  • Fund efforts to find ways to make Yelp and other social media reviews more accessible to high-need, vulnerable populations, including caregivers for the elderly, non-English speaking or low-income minority populations. Potential ideas include apps, translation software or a way to connect consumers with patient navigators.