Anna Rahman, Assistant Research Professor

Social media users who rate nursing homes often do so using more service-oriented criteria than government officials, say academic researchers who took a deep look at how Yelp reviews of nursing homes stack up against their Nursing Home Compare rankings.

The study, the second by a team of gerontologists in California, examined 264 reviews of 51 nursing homes and tracked “code” phrases to see how often certain qualities were mentioned.

Key to the research were quality of staff care and staffing; physical facility and setting; resident safety and security; clinical care quality; and financial issues.

Nearly 54% of Yelp reviewers posted comments related to staff attitude and caring; about 29% posted comments related to staff responsiveness. Yelp reviewers also often posted about facilities’ physical environment, but they didn’t often focus on the quality of healthcare or concerns about resident safety.

“Our results suggest that nursing home residents and their families care about human touch,” author Anna Rahman, Ph.D., assistant research professor at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology told McKnight’s. “Is the staff caring? Responsive to resident needs? They also care about setting. Is the facility itself appealing? The CMS quality measures do not assess these attributes, but you might reasonably expect high Yelp scores to correlate with high CMS scores. Our previous study, however, showed the Yelp scores were lower. Why?”

Rahman conducted the study with fellow USC professor Susan Enguidanos, Ph.D., and a team of graduate students. Full results were published in The Gerontologist April 20.

She said it’s vital for skilled nursing providers to examine why their Yelp reviews are lower because consumers, “empowered by social media outlets, are paying attention.”

Softer features may be of more interest to users of Yelp, which first came to fame as a site to praise (or pan) wait staff and share photos of magazine-worthy dinner entrees.

But Rahman said nursing homes that ignore Yelp or other online consumer reviews do so at their peril because consumer reliance on them is growing.

“Research … shows that Yelp reviews influence demand and impact revenue.. With tech savvy millennials coming up behind their aging baby boomer parents, we can expect more families will increasingly check out these reviews before selecting a nursing home,” the USC researcher noted.

Because different types of reviewers — consumers and  government surveyors — define high quality using different factors, the researchers recommended consumers would do best to consult both 5-star methods when considering potential care settings.