Healthcare consumers stand to gain as popular Yelp teams with brainy ProPublica

Google a restaurant and one of your top results will be a star rating from Yelp. Google a doctor’s name, or that of a practice or hospital, and you’re likely to be looking at a similar visual aid from Healthgrades.

That may be about to change in Yelp’s favor—and to patients’ advantage.

ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative-journalism organization, announced Aug. 5 that it is partnering with Yelp to base Yelp’s reviews on not only consumers’ subjective experiences but also on hard data reflecting practice patterns.

By combining ProPublica’s Pulitzer-winning, widely respected intellectual vigor with Yelp’s millions-of-eyeballs popularity, the two could become a force for providers to reckon with.

According to ProPublica’s own coverage, which is posted on the organization’s website and co-published on NPR’s Shots blog, Yelp will give ProPublica “unprecedented access” to the rating site’s 1.3 million reviews of healthcare providers.

To search and sort data, reporters will use RevEx, a tool built for the budding collaboration by the department of computer science and engineering at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering, explains ProPublica reporter Charles Ornstein.

Consumers using Yelp will now see, along with stars and gripes, info on thousands of providers’ readmission rates, payment suspensions, fines paid and serious deficiencies.

It’s similar in some ways to Medicare’s Hospital Compare site, but it’s decidedly more attractive and user-friendly.

For its part, Yelp gets an instant reputation makeover.

Observers say Yelp needs this because it’s been beset by charges of everything from unreliable reviewers to activist flooding to preferable treatment for advertisers.

Even so, Ornstein points out, physicians and other health professionals could learn a valuable lesson from the Yelp archives.

“Your officious personality or brusque office staff can sink your reputation,” he writes, “even if your professional skills are just fine.”

In the short term, radiologists probably don’t have as much to worry about as docs in other specialties, along with dentists, optometrists, chiropractors and massage therapists—the top five most-reviewed categories in healthcare, according to an analysis by Yelp, ProPublica and NYU.

But transparency to consumers will probably increase over time, as the profession has been reaching out to patients with initiatives like RSNA’s Radiology Cares campaign, ACR/RSNA’s and Strategic Radiology’s

As Ornstein notes, the American Medical Association (AMA) encourages patients to forego posting anonymous reviews and, instead, bring any concerns directly to their doctors.

As for finding a doctor, the AMA says the process is necessarily “more complicated than choosing a good restaurant, and patients owe it to themselves to use the best available resources when making this important decision.”