Study: Online reviews can flag strengths, weaknesses in the ED and urgent care

Online reviews can provide a window into the patient experience. (Getty/anyaberkut)

Plenty of healthcare providers are still skeptical about the value of online patient reviews. But a new study found that the data can help identify some of the strengths and weaknesses in emergency and urgent care.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine analyzed more than 100,000 reviews posted on Yelp between 2005 and 2017 and found several themes emerged in providers that were given high ratings and those rated poorly.

Highly ranked ERs were rated positively for physician bedside manner, that family members were treated well and for access on off-hours like nights and weekends. The best-reviewed urgent care centers, meanwhile, received praise from patients for ease in processes like filling prescriptions, according to the study.

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The study adds to a growing body of research supporting the value of anecdotal reports like online reviews for providing a crucial data supplement to more formal patient experience surveys, such as the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS), said Anish Agarwal, M.D., an emergency physician at Penn and the study’s lead author.

RELATED: Looking for accurate hospital quality measures? Stay away from Yelp

“There will be really interesting work in the future to think about how we can learn from these [reviews] and employ them across both settings,” Agarwal told FierceHealthcare.

The researchers also found common themes in the ERs and urgent care centers that earned one-star reviews. One-star emergency rooms were docked for the speed of care and one-star urgent care centers were dinged for negative experiences with receptionists and for patients fearing the care was low-quality.

About half (47%) of ERs earned a one-star review, compared to 30% of urgent care centers.

Agarwal said that the study team was also struck by the sheer number of reviews, which equates to about one per hour nationwide. Some patients, he said, are “Yelping from the waiting room” and providing updates in near-real time.

The researchers were also struck by how patients were very consistent in rewarding either one-star or five-stars, even for an experience that would be considered middling, Agarwal said. This trend is fairly unique to healthcare, while a customer at a restaurant, for example, is more willing to offer a three-star review for a mixed experience.

RELATED: Physician rating websites don’t provide meaningful information, study finds

There is far more at stake for a patient in a healthcare setting compared to a diner at a restaurant, though, the researchers noted.

“If a restaurant provides you with a quick meal exactly as advertised, then your expectations are met,” Raina Merchant, M.D., the study’s senior author and director of the Penn Medicine Center for Digital Health, said in a statement.

“With healthcare, things are different. People are often critically ill, the outcomes are uncertain and the wait can be long—which are all things that sometimes can’t be controlled,” Merchant said.

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