Yelp Embeds Health Data Into Its Hospital Ratings


Online consumer review site Yelp has updated its platform to display quantitative healthcare metrics alongside traditional reviews when users search for hospitals, dialysis clinics, and nursing homes. Yelp is partnering with ProPublica in a data-for-data business exchange. Under the arrangement, ProPublica will provide Yelp with aggregated health metrics based on both ProPublica’s ongoing research, and publically available data borrowed from Medicare’s Hospital Compare website.  In exchange, ProPublica will gain access to aggregated Yelp review data that it can use to support its research efforts in other areas. Luther Lowe, Yelp’s vice president for public policy, explains, “We’re taking data that otherwise might live in some government PDF that’s hard to find and we’re putting it in a context where it makes sense for people who may be in the middle of making critical decisions."


While Yelp’s reputation tends to be a restaurant and attractions review site, the platform collects reviews on a broad range of sectors, and reports that six percent of the businesses reviewed on Yelp fall into the health care industry. Under its new initiative, more than 25,000 healthcare facilities will now display healthcare statistics to users. ProPublica reportedly guided Yelp in picking appropriate data points to display and coached the company on how to explain each metric to consumers.  The new data points for hospitals include average ED wait times, how noisy hospital rooms tend to be, and how well doctors communicate with patients at the facilities. Listings for dialysis clinics will include data on the types of treatments offered, as well as the clinic’s average hospital admissions and readmissions rates, and patient survival rates. Nursing home listings will include any serious deficiencies or suspension of payment imposed by HHS, as well as the total number of beds at the facility and serious fines levied against the nursing home.

As a stand-alone data source, the trustworthiness of Yelp’s online reviews has been the subject of a considerable amount of scrutiny in recent years. The company has been accused of removing negative reviews on behalf of its sponsors in the past, and social media activists have used the platform to trash the ratings of various business owners that became Internet-famous over unrelated situations. A recent case in point from the healthcare sector is that of River Bluff Dental, a small practice in Bloomington, MN owned by the now infamous Walter Palmer, DDS who is accused of poaching Cecil the Lion on a hunting trip in Africa earlier this month. In protest for this act, River Bluff Dental has received thousands of one-star reviews from patrons protesting the killing. Though Yelp is working with the practice to remove ratings from people that were never actually customers, this kind of online-ratings trashing is commonplace on Yelp. For this reason, adding statistical data from an independent source, like CMS of ProPublica, should help both patients and healthcare businesses because it introduces validated data points into the consumers decision-making process when selecting a health care provider.

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