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Yelp reviews reveal strengths and weaknesses of emergency departments and urgent care

Yelp reviews could help bridge a knowledge gap, and also help providers hone in on new focus areas to improve patient care, study says.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Yelp reviews reveal that emergency departments are viewed as being higher quality but lacking in service, as compared to urgent care centers, which patients rate the opposite, according to a new study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

The results provide a unique opportunity for researchers and clinicians to learn from online reviews, which provide a raw narrative from consumers.


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Urgent care centers have proliferated widely across the country in the past 15 years. Between 2007 and 2016, visits increased by more than 1,700 percent.

But while emergency departments have established surveys for patients and their families to report their experiences, there is not a clear equivalent for gathering direct feedback from patients who visit urgent care centers.


Online reviews are an increasingly important component of a healthcare brand's reputation. Early this year, an analysis showed that of nearly 2,700 online reviews of the nation's top 20 hospitals as ranked by U.S. News and World Report, almost two out of three reviewers gave the facilities a mediocre to poor rating on Yelp.


The researchers analyzed more than 100,000 Yelp reviews, posted between 2005 and 2017 -- in the midst of the urgent care boom -- tied to 1,566 emergency departments and 5,601 from urgent care centers. During that time, an average of one new review for an emergency department or an urgent care center appeared every hour of every day.

The reviews fell largely on one end of the spectrum or the other: five stars or one star. Roughly 47 percent of emergency department and 30 percent of urgent care center reviews fell in the one-star category. The disproportionate amount of negative reviews for acute care facilities, compared to other entities reviewed online, like hotels or restaurants, could be a result of what is at stake for the consumer.

Researchers, with the help of an automated system, analyzed five-star and one-star Yelp reviews for both emergency departments and urgent care centers, two venues from which patients can select when in need of acute care.

They identified key themes in the five-star reviews of emergency departments, including bedside manner, treatment of family members and access to care on nights and weekends.

Urgent care centers were unique in receiving five-star reviews more often for factors including ease of refilling prescriptions and being positively recommended by others.

On the other side, emergency departments received negative remarks for speed of care, while urgent care centers received one-star reviews as a result of poor reception experiences and patients lacking confidence in the care received.

The research team found that each type of facility received similar five-star reviews for comfort, cleanliness of facilities, pediatric care and professionalism. One-star reviews for poor phone experiences, long wait times, billing difficulties and pain management were tied to both emergency departments and urgent care centers.


The authors said Yelp reviews could help bridge a knowledge gap, and also help providers hone in on new focus areas in an attempt to improve patient care. Moving forward, the researchers hope to find more nontraditional sources to provide clues about patient experiences and use them to enhance care quality.


Hospital executives wondering how to approach online reputation management should consider these findings when crafting that strategy or advising staffers who do so.

Twitter: @JELagasse

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