To paraphrase John Lennon, change is what happens when you’re making other plans. After decades of trying to lead consumers to platforms that rate hospital quality—Medicare’s Hospital Compare, and the Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade, to name two—it appears that a new disruptive kid on the block might be making a real difference. People are turning to Yelp to find the best hospital near them, according to a study by the Manhattan Institute. Yelp is known for its restaurant reviews.

Wary professionals ask: Can laymen steer other laymen toward true quality care? The answer is a guarded yes. The study looks at how Yelp ratings of hospitals in New York State match up with traditional rating websites. For avoiding preventable readmissions, Yelp seems to do as well as the more traditional platforms.

More broadly, say the authors, “We find that higher Yelp ratings are correlated with better-quality hospitals and that they provide a useful, clear, and reliable tool for comparing the quality of different facilities as measured by potentially preventable readmission rates, a widely accepted metric.”

They are quick to add that Yelp alone cannot be the only guide to quality. But it can be part of the mix. There are several things that would make Yelp ratings more effective. First, make them more visible. The authors point out that insurers on the state insurance exchange must offer provider directories. “Yelp hospital ratings can be included with these directories, helping consumers determine not only if their preferred hospitals are in-network but if they are of high quality.”

Second, make it a two-way street by linking quality metrics from things like the Statewide Planning and Research Cooperative System onto the Yelp hospital review page. It would give consumers easy access to information Yelp reviews don’t provide.

Third, they suggest “hackathons,” whereby computer literate people find ways to make Yelp reviews more accessible to high-needs, vulnerable populations.

The study ends on a high note. “In the long run, Yelp’s health care ratings are apt to become an even more valuable research tool than they are at present. They can assist other efforts to develop more innovative payment models that better align payment with quality and drive consumers to more efficient providers.”

Source: Manhattan Institute