Study: Yelp Pretty Good at Helping Patients Pick Hospitals

Crowdsourced reviews may be as helpful as formal methods, Penn research says.


Want to figure out how to get the best health care in town? Check out Yelp.

New Penn research — published in April issue of the journal Health Affairs — suggests the crowdsourced review site offers hospital assessments that line up closely with more formal, government-approved appraisals, and is often more comprehensive in its outlook.

“Yelp reviews are in real time and often written by patients for patients,” Dr. Raina M. Merchant, director of the Penn Social Media and Health Innovation Lab, said in an announcement of the research results.

The study compared 17,000 Yelp reviews of 1,352 US hospitals to the federal government’s Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey given to patients at those same hospitals. summed up the results: “The study found that hospitals with at least 3 Yelp reviews had Yelp ratings nearly identical to the more formal HCAHPS hospital rating.”

Why does this matter? Because people look online for health information — but researchers say they’re much more likely to seek that information from their traditional social networks rather than seek out the government’s more obscure ratings.

It helps, then, that the two measures align — and Yelp can actually be more helpful, providing feedback on medical staff communication and compassion that the government ratings omit.

“These topics that are covered within the Yelp reviews are important because they relate to the interpersonal relationships of patients with physicians, nurses, and staff,” said Dr. Benjamin L. Ranard, the study’s lead author and a junior fellow at the Penn Social Media and Health Innovation Lab. “Prospective patients are likely to want to know how caring and comforting caregivers are in various departments of a hospital.” notes one other Yelp advantage — it includes reviews not just from patients, but from family members and other caregivers. “That’s a really important population that we don’t otherwise hear from,” Merchant said.

And despite Yelp’s reputation as a site businesses like restaurants often dread, researchers say Yelp’s hospital reviews appear to be a healthy mix of the good and the bad.