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ProPublica and Yelp join forces to bring health care data to consumers and journalists

ProPublica and Yelp join forces to bring health care data to consumers and journalists

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Last week, ProPublica and Yelp announced a partnership in which they will provide health care statistics and patient survey results on the Yelp pages of more than 25,000 health care facilities. In addition to the usual patient reviews, people can find data from Medicare and other sources organized by ProPublica in a user-friendly way. Information about nursing homes, for example, has begun to include stats on the number of beds, fines paid, serious deficiencies, and payment suspensions.

Both partners stand to benefit from this arrangement. ProPublica will have “unprecedented access” to Yelp’s 1.3 million reviews of health providers, which it can mine for stories. And Yelp has an opportunity to increase reviews of health care businesses, which now make up 6 percent of its reviewed businesses, according to an interview with Luther Lowe, Yelp’s vice president for policy, in the Washington Post. (Those who thought of Yelp as a resource for reviews of restaurants, hair stylists, and mechanics might be surprised, as I was, to see “dentists” listed ahead of these businesses on the company’s website under “10 Things You Should Know About Yelp.”)

More information to help journalists write about health and help individuals make informed choices about where they go for health care is a good thing. And it is coming at a time when health care institutions are fighting back against negative reviews from patients on social media and unfavorable coverage from journalists. The American Medical Association has teamed up with Reputation.com to help physician members monitor and control information about them online. And, as the Washington Post reported in June, health care facilities are hiring “reputation management” people to track reviews of them and their clinicians on Yelp, Healthgrades, and other online sources.

Based on an interview with the person in charge of reputation management of a group of hospitals and clinics in Virginia, the article said that the group might try to counter negative reviews by surveying its patients and then posting positive comments on the ratings sites. “That way, an Internet search may display the newest positive comments ahead of older negative reviews,” the article said.

Manipulating the display of patient reviews is one thing, but what will health care facilities do about unfavorable data from Medicare? One would hope that they will use this information to improve the quality of the care they give. But some have expressed concern that certain types of information – patient satisfaction surveys – could have the opposite effect.

An article published earlier this year in the Hastings Center Report, the journal edited by my colleagues at The Hastings Center, concluded that patient satisfaction surveys could eventually compromise the quality of care and raise health care costs. “The pursuit of high patient-satisfaction scores may actually lead health professionals and institutions to practice bad medicine by honoring patient requests for unnecessary and even harmful treatments,” it stated. “Patient satisfaction is important, especially when it is a response to being treated with dignity and respect, and patient-satisfaction surveys have a valuable place in evaluating health care. Nonetheless, some uses and consequences of these surveys may actively mislead health care.”

Elisabeth Rosenthal, the New York Times reporter, expanded on this concern in a post on her “Paying Till It Hurts” Facebook page, recounting her recent experience in the ER and the patient satisfaction survey that followed in the mail:

“The questions it contained -- which I was asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 5 -- are mostly irrelevant to good medical care in an ER. They asked about waiting time, which they could have known from their time stamps, and which in an ER is not really pertinent since the more severe emergencies are taken first. It asked about the doctors' and nurses' ‘concern for my comfort’ and ‘courtesy.’ Whether they ‘cared about me as a person.’ Whether I thought they paid adequate attention to ‘hand washing, gloves, etc.’ The one question that seemed important was ‘how well was your pain controlled?’ Meanwhile, no one could tell me if the doctors were in-network or not. No one could give me an estimate of the bill. No one asked in the survey: did the copayment seem reasonable and will you have trouble paying the bill? I got good care (no unneeded testing) but the survey was super-annoying.”

ProPublica and Yelp may not be able to tell you if a health care provider is in your network, but it can tell you, based on Medicare patient satisfaction surveys, where a hospital’s staff ranks, relative to its peers, in communications skills. When you have a choice of hospitals, that data would be good go know.  

[Photo by Michael Dorausch via Flickr.]

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