Patients give fewer stars and compliments to the service provided by emergency rooms than urgent-care facilities in online reviews, according to a new study from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The study, published this month in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Emergency Medicine, “provides a unique opportunity for researchers and clinicians to learn from online reviews, which provide a raw narrative from consumers,” they said.
‘Patients often tell me that the internet is the first place they go for information about medical conditions and to research providers.’
Anish Agarwal, mergency-medicine physician at Penn Medicine Health
Roughly 47% of emergency departments received one-star reviews versus 30% of urgent-care center. The researchers analyzed more than 100,000 Yelp
reviews that were posted between 2005 and 2017 when urgent-care facilities were on the rise. The reviews covered 1,566 emergency departments and 5,601 urgent-care centers. During that time, an average of one new review for an emergency department or urgent-care center appeared every hour, every day.
People don’t always choose the nearest emergency room when they have a non-life threatening health crisis or minor accident. Instead, they browse the reviews online. “As an emergency department physician, patients often tell me that the internet is the first place they go for information about medical conditions and to research providers,” said Anish Agarwal, the study’s lead author and emergency-medicine physician at Penn Medicine Health.
Researchers 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. However, emergency departments received negative remarks for their speed of care, while urgent-care centers received one-star reviews for their poor reception experiences when people first walk through the door and an overall lack of confidence in the care patients received.
Of course, there’s more at stake at a medical facility than, say, a restaurant, but it may be easier to judge a meal the day after visiting it. “If a restaurant provides you with a quick meal exactly as advertised, they meet your expectations,” said Raina Merchant, director of the Penn Medicine Center for Digital Health. “With health care, things are different. People are often critically ill, the outcomes are uncertain, and the wait can be long.” The results can’t always be predicted.
‘With health care, things are different. People are often critically ill, the outcomes are uncertain, and the wait can be long.’
Raina Merchant, director of the Penn Medicine Center for Digital Health
More urgent-care centers have appeared across the country in the last 15 years, the study noted. Between 2007 and 2016, visits increased by more than 1,700%. But while emergency departments have created surveys for patients and their families to report their experiences and/or concerns, there is no clear equivalent for gathering direct feedback from patients who visit urgent-care facilities, it added. Online reviews have filled that gap, Agarwal said.
Patients should also compare prices before visiting doctors, a recent study by researchers at Harvard, Yale, and Columbia Universities found. Fewer than 1% of individuals used websites or apps to find the best price before signing up for medical procedures, it concluded, despite the fact that the cost of up to 40% of medical services can be reduced by comparison-shopping. Instead, most patients rely on a referral from a primary-care doctor, colleagues, family or friends.
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