Hospitals that receive top marks in quality rankings earn mediocre reviews online, analysis finds

Hospitals that receive top marks from U.S. News and World Report don't always earn the same praise from patients, according to a new analysis. 

Nearly 63% of 2,700 Yelp reviewers gave the top 20 hospitals in the country, as ranked by U.S. News, a score of between one and three stars out of five, according to a study by Vanguard Communications & Healthcare Process Improvement, a healthcare marketing firm.

On average, the top 20 hospitals earned a 3.2 rating, the analysis found. U.S. News ranked a number of big-name providers in its latest list, with a top five that includes Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and UCSF Medical Center. 

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U.S. News bases it rankings on clinical performance, but patient reviews often focus more on customer service and other nonclinical concerns, Vanguard found. Eighty-four percent of Yelp reviews included in the analysis focused on service issues like billing problems, wait times and lack of follow-up instead of care quality concerns. 

In fact, most online reviews were critical of customer service but generally were pleased with physicians and the care provided, Vanguard found. 

"People are generally pleased with their care providers," Vanguard CEO Ron Harman King said in an announcement. "The harshest reviews more often than not complain about non-clinical services provided by administrative staffs surrounding the doctors." 

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Studies that looked into the value of online reviews have had mixed results. Commercial websites that rate physicians, for example, may not be particularly useful, as they contain too few reviews to offer valuable data, according to a study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association. 

However, providers can take advantage of Yelp reviews because they provide a window into the patient experience. Traditional patient surveys like the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems can provide a look at how often patients feel disrespected by staff members, but they don't offer a specific snapshot of an incident that made them feel that way. Therefore, some researchers believe it is to a provider's benefit to look at sites like Yelp. 

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Embracing online reviews is especially important as millennials overtake seniors as the largest group of healthcare consumers. Millennials often consider online reviews and referrals from friends when selecting healthcare providers.