More on Patient Engagement

How poor provider communication can result in negative Yelp reviews

As consumers become more powerful in healthcare, online reviews have become a more prominent tool by which to gauge brand quality.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

When analyzing reviews of hospitals on Yelp, Penn Medicine researchers found that the word most associated with negative reviews, including those rated at one-star, was "told," which appeared in almost 20 percent of the posts.

Published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, the study points to the value patients and their loved ones' place on communication in healthcare settings.

The findings could prove valuable to providers who want to protect their brand image -- an especially important consideration as healthcare becomes more consumer-centric, with patients wielding ever-greater power in influencing health systems' reputations.

HIMSS20 Digital

Learn on-demand, earn credit, find products and solutions. Get Started >>


Among the one-star reviews the researchers saw that featured "told" were frustrations about information that was ostensibly shared ("They never told me the cost of any of the procedures"), anger at a lack of listening ("I told her I did not want to discuss it any more but she persisted to badger me.") and feelings of futility ("Some idiot doctor examined me and told me there was nothing they could do for me.").

Researchers said a simple word like "told" can signal a breakdown in patient-provider communication.

After analyzing 51,376 reviews for 1,566 U.S. hospitals, researchers found that the word "told" appeared in 9,578 reviews, which, taken together, averaged 1.78 stars.

When it came to positive reviews, the word "friendly" was found in nearly 11 percent of them, 5,594 total. Along with the word "great," it correlated the most with five-star reviews. In these, reviews often focused on the clinical staff's demeanor and attentiveness, such as, "The entire staff was very friendly and made sure we were taken care of."

While official surveys about hospital experiences are available, the study's authors feel that Yelp reviews are a valuable tool to view unfiltered thoughts and feelings.

By keeping an eye on these reviews, hospitals might be able to pinpoint areas currently causing problems in the patient experience. And as online reviews and social media continue to grow -- and become intertwined -- the team expects to continue exploring the data to point out potential approaches for improvement.


"Consumer centricity," as it's been labeled, is required to win in today's era of active consumers. Consolidating health systems and commoditized plans and medicines means greater consumer engagement is required so that consumers select their system, their plan and their drug.

And funders of healthcare are demanding greater value of systems and drug manufacturers, requiring consumer centricity to get people to change their behavior and, in turn, drive down healthcare costs.

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: