Here’s What Yelp’s New Data-Driven Hospital Reviews Can Tell You


Yelp: Not just a source for restaurant reviews. (Photo: Getty Images)

You can now learn more about your local hospital in the same place where you read up on restaurant reviews.

Nonprofit news organization ProPublica and Yelp recently joined forces to allow information from ProPublica’s health databases to appear on Yelp’s health provider pages.

Among the objective data now available: Average wait times at hospital emergency rooms, number of available beds at nursing homes, and whether an institute has received any fines.

People can also read and post reviews about their health-care providers on Yelp, making the site a more dynamic place to research and compare doctors — and provide more accountability.

While Yelp’s health reviews have been around in some form since 2004, NPR reports that more than half of the reviews were written in the past two years and now get millions of page views every month.

Related: Most People Wait 19 Minutes To See The Doctor. Here’s What You Can Do About It

“This was inevitable … we like transparency,” health care expert Caitlin Donovan, spokeswoman for the National Patient Advocate Foundation, tells Yahoo Health. “Knowledge is power, and you’ll wind up a better patient for it.”

Yelp is hardly the first website to allow patients to evaluate their doctors. ZocDoc, Rate MDs, and Healthgrades also feature patient reviews. But it’s rare to be able to review your favorite restaurant and doctor on the same site.

Donovan says it’s especially good that the new feature is grounded in hard data and not just reviews from Yelp users who may or may not be disgruntled. Those reviews always have some level of bias, she says, which may not have anything to do with the level of care a patient receives.

“Sometimes doctors may prescribe the best treatment plan and you just don’t want to do it, like losing weight to lower your risk of developing diabetes,” says Donovan. “That can upset a patient, who might leave a bad review, but the doctor was just doing their job.”

While licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark, PsyD, says online reviews for health-care providers are an overall good thing, she agrees that patients should be wary of negative reviews they read. “There is a tendency to be more negative in online reviews or commentary,” she tells Yahoo Health.

We tend to remember negative experiences more acutely than positive experiences and feel a strong drive to protect ourselves and others from a perceived threat, she explains. For some people, that may be as simple as leaving a bad Yelp review.

Related: Are Online Physician Ratings Any Good?

And, of course, some reviewers can be motivated by revenge or feelings of helplessness when they receive unwelcome news about their health. “Fighting back, or lashing out at a provider, could be an attempt to rebalance a perceived power imbalance,” Clark says. “There is no better avenue to achieve this than attacking a professional’s public reputation and, thus, their bottom line.”

Unfortunately, there are no real barriers against this kind of behavior, and negative reviews can scare people who have limited options when it comes to health-care providers.

“You might get freaked out after reading a bad review about your doctor or hospital, but you can’t do much about it,” says Donovan.

However, there is a major upside to online reviews of health-care providers — especially where hospitals are involved. Donovan says repeated negative reviews of hospitals, many of which get some sort of public funding, can prompt the public to advocate for better resources.

“Hopefully this will increase accountability,” Donovan says, as well as encourage hospitals to be more transparent about where their rates come from.

Not sure how to weed out the legitimate reviews from the biased versions? Clark recommends reading each one carefully and relying on the ones that make sense to you.

And, if you’re not sure what to believe, ask your doctor to explain.

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