As consumers increasingly choose physicians and service providers based on other people’s feedback on review websites, Internet-based customer service programs are becoming critical business tools for clinical laboratories and pathology groups

Clinical laboratory managers are becoming increasingly aware that negative reviews on anonymous online review sites, such as Yelp and others, can negatively impact revenues.

Official sources and surveys, such as Medicare’s Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS), already provide information and ratings on healthcare service providers. However, recent coverage in Healthcare Dive highlights how consumers are finding the narrative reviews on websites such as Yelp more accessible and relatable. And, that these reviews focus on the criteria consumers find most important.

“We’re moving to a health system where patient ratings are becoming more important, [one] where top-down ratings are really inaccessible to patients and probably not that useful,” Yevgeniy Feyman, PhD, told Healthcare Dive. Feyman, along with Paul Howard, PhD, co-authored the Manhattan Institute report, “Yelp for Health.”

In the report, they examined the correlation between Yelp reviews of New York hospitals and objective measures of hospital quality. “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 (PPR), a widely accepted metric,” they stated.

This is a significant finding for clinical laboratory administrators and pathologists. It demonstrates that how patients review their provider experiences does align with objective measures of provider quality that may be public, but are not as easy for consumers to find as websites like Yelp, Healthgrades, and others.

Online Reviews: A Metric for Determining Healthcare Value and Quality?

Andrea Ducas, Senior Program Manager with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), told Healthcare Dive the primary considerations patients use to pick providers include:

  • “Treats patients with respect;
  • “Accepts insurance;
  • “Shares in decision-making;
  • “Responsiveness to phone calls; and,
  • “Professional skill.”

Research into how patients find/choose their physicians conducted by OnePoll and commissioned by Binary Fountain determined that, of more than 1,000 adults surveyed:

  • “95% of respondents regard online ratings and reviews as ‘somewhat’ to ‘very’ reliable;
  • “75% of Americans say online ratings and review sites have influenced their decision when choosing a physician; and,
  • “30% of consumers share their own healthcare experiences via social media and online ratings and review sites.”

Common research sources listed by respondents included:

Can Online Reviews Damage Healthcare Providers?

“Given that the majority of quality measures out there … aren’t really that accessible for patients, this is a very good proxy,” Feyman told U.S. News in a report on physicians’ concerns about the use and popularity of review sites.

“[T]he emphasis placed on a small number of patient opinions—far fewer patients leave reviews than are treated in a typical health system—makes it harder for doctors to do their job for fear of a career-harming bad review. And a few negative posts from disgruntled patients could unfairly skew public perception—and eventually, a provider’s bottom line,” U.S. News noted.

Despite this, Luther Lowe, Yelp’s Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Government Affairs, assured Healthcare Dive they have processes to “filter spam and quell suspicious activity daily.”

Online reviews recently played an important role in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) exposé on Theranos, which Dark Daily covered in 2016. Investigative reporter John Carreyrou (above) used Yelp to locate patients who reported negative experiences with specific healthcare services and practices. He described how he used the platform during a presentation to the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) in April 2018. Click on this link to watch a video of Carreyrou’s presentation. (Photo copyright: Association of Healthcare Journalists.)

Negative Reviews: A Critical Concern for Medical Laboratories

Consumers continue to use Internet platforms to both share ratings and compare information on healthcare professionals and the clinical laboratories supporting them. Thus, to prevent damage from negative reviews, labs must actively monitor feedback, pursue inaccurate information posted online, and encourage consumers to provide positive feedback and opinions.

According to data from Alexa, Yelp is the 32nd most visited website in the United States. Yelp’s own data reports that more than 150-million reviews have been added to the site since its inception 13 years ago.

And, Yelp categorizes 7% of the reviewed businesses as “health-related.”

Between easy-to-access information distributed online and an increased push for transparency, clinical laboratories and other healthcare service providers must work to take charge of the narrative created about their businesses and encourage positive feedback on these developing platforms.

Failing to do so could cost laboratories the physicians’ practices they service.

“There are some providers who are trying to get ahead of the curve and post reviews directly on their website,” Ducas told Healthcare Dive. “Another thing they can do is encourage their patients to read some reviews online and invite them to leave feedback. That’s a radical invitation but it’s certainly something they can do.”

As healthcare customers increasingly turn to review sites for feedback about healthcare facilities and the service providers supporting them, clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups must focus on their Internet presence and respond quickly to any negative review feedback with great customer service.

—Jon Stone

Related Information:

Providers Jittery over ‘Yelpification’ of Healthcare

Highlights from the Healthcare Consumer Insight and Digital Engagement Survey

Yelp Proving to Be Reliable for Hospital Reviews, Addresses 12 More Measures than HCAHPS Scores

Using Yelp for Your Health

Most Top Hospital Online Reviews Are Lukewarm or Negative

Hospitals That Receive Top Marks in Quality Rankings Earn Mediocre Reviews Online, Analysis Finds

Study: Nearly 63% of Yelp Reviewers Give Top-Ranked Hospitals Mediocre to Poor Ratings

Study Suggests Yelp Can Help People Find Quality Healthcare

Yelp for Health: Using the Wisdom of Crowds to Find High-Quality Hospitals

Federal Appeals Court Rules Yelp Not Responsible for Bad Reviews; Labs Advised to Examine Their Online Presence