Consumers rate urgent care higher than EDs in Yelp reviews

These days, consumers use the Internet for everything, including writing and reading reviews on healthcare facilities before they utilize them. Despite sometimes being a pain to providers, consumer ratings could reveal healthcare preferences and supplement traditional methods of understanding the patient experience.

In a study of Yelp reviews of emergency departments (EDs) and urgent care centers, more consumers rated urgent care centers higher. Users can rate institutions on a 5-star scale on Yelp, with 5 being the highest.

The proportion of 5-star reviews for urgent care centers was almost twice as high as EDs––51 percent to 27 percent, respectively, according to the comparison, which was conducted by Penn Medicine Department researchers and published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

“Understanding drivers for high and low online ratings and what patients value in their ED and urgent care center experiences offers insights for health systems and providers to improve acute care delivery,” study author Anish K. Agarwal, MD, MPH, emergency medicine physician at Penn, et al. wrote. “Patients’ perspectives may become increasingly important as they seek care in the expanding urgent care markets.”

The reviews are consistent with previous research that has found accessibility of care and hospitality of staff has more of an impact on patient satisfaction than quality of care, according to the study. However, previous research has also shown reviews don't necessarily indicate quality care.

Understanding the differences in patient experiences in both EDs and urgent care centers could potentially help drive decisions and investments related to improving care and the patient experience.

Providers should also consider consumer feedback as the utilization and prevalence of review sites such as Yelp continue to increase. While these reviews are unstructured and not verified, they can provide “a rich, narrative description of the patient experience that is difficult to capture through traditional, standardized hospital surveys,” Agarwal et al. wrote.

Sometimes, these reviews are even conducted in real-time when the patient is still sitting in the facility. For example, one patient wrote: “This place is absolutely terrible…. I’ve been here for 7 hours and still have not been treated…. I pressed the nurse button and did not get a response for over 4 hours. Terrible.” 

Penn researchers identified and labeled 25 topics across 1- and 5-star reviews for urgent care centers and EDs. In both settings, 5-star ratings were associated with comfort, professionalism, facilities, pediatric care and staff interaction. Communication, telephone experience, waiting, billing, pain management and diagnostic testing were associated with 1-star reviews.

Bedside manner, care for family members and access were uniquely associated with 5-star ED reviews, while recommendations and prescription refills were uniquely associated with 5-star urgent care ratings. Among 1-star reviews, service and speed were associated with EDs and lack of confidence and reception experience were associated with urgent care.

As urgent care centers continue to pop up across the country, EDs should take notice of how patients feel about their experiences in their facilities as they continue to comment on public online platforms. 

The impact of online reviews on healthcare providers has been met with fury in the past, in the case of one woman who posted a negative review and was subsequently sued by the provider for $1 million. Others have warned consumers against picking a doctor based on online reviews alone.