Yelping at online reviews

Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

If there's one service long-term care providers almost universally dislike, it's online websites geared towards consumers and healthcare. Now there's a new contender for those evaluating where to send a loved one, and it's from an entity better known as a way to find the best pad thai near you.

Yelp announced this week it was adding healthcare data to its review pages for medical businesses, including nursing homes. As part of a partnership with ProPublica, consumers can see lots of fun facts for 4,600 hospitals and 15,000 nursing homes, including fines paid by a nursing home or emergency room wait times.

The knee-jerk reaction is “ugh.” The conventional wisdom among both physicians, hospitals and post-acute care facilities is consumers can't possibly understand the delicate network of complexity around giving care. How much weight do we give to irate family members lambasting a nursing home, especially if they start throwing around words such as “negligence?” What if their loved one has dementia and is deteriorating, and the best care in the world won't change the outcome? Even when looking at data on fines, it would be easy for a consumer to assume the worst, but many of us know there's no consistent standard for areas such as infection control or immediate jeopardy. In areas where there are limited post-acute options, consumers become discouraged when all online research seems to indicate local facilities are subpar, without setting foot in a nursing home to see for themselves.

But there is good news. The better way to look at Yelp's foray into healthcare data is, as NPR pointed out, to realize how much of these reviews are based on the experience, not the care. It's the same trick with almost any service industry. We've all had a lousy burger, a subpar auto tune-up, or a physician visit where we wondered if the doctor has actually gone to medical school. But assuming you aren't an unhappy or angry person, most of us let it go without going online. What changes that is when the waitress is rude, the mechanic takes you for a ride, or the physician makes you wait for an hour.

Online reviews aren't going away, and there's no foolproof system for consumers to evaluate nursing homes, Nursing Home Compare arguably offers the most objective data, but it would be easy to miss this year's rebasing and what it meant - I suspect a few consumers thought their local nursing home had lost stars. Furthermore, it's hard to understand quality measures related to antipsychotics and staffing may or may not have an impact on a loved one. (We've said it before, and we'll say it again - the industry also would have been helped this year if the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services provided consumer-oriented materials related to the rebasing, rather than letting providers flounder through explanations to families about how they technically got worse overnight.)

It's tough to balance the need to up quality measurements and focus on concrete data with “softer” elements. But when it comes to reviews, there's no question that trying to focus on the resident and family experience can yield dividends.

Elizabeth Newman is the Senior Editor at McKnight's Long-Term Care News.

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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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