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In addition to checking out local restaurants, auto repair shops, and dry cleaners, you can check out health care providers on a new-and-improving consumer review portal on Yelp.

While Yelp has been serving up consumer comments on doctors, hospitals, clinical labs, nursing homes and dentists for several years, the review site is partnering with ProPublica, the journalism portal, to complement the data collected on health in local communities. Yelp’s CEO, Jeremy Stoppelman, made the announcement in the company blog on August 5 2015.

Yelp has amassed over 1.3 million health reviews, and ProPublica will have access to those as part of this alliance. Yelp gets to access and publish from ProPublica’s databases on health providers which has been culled from information from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on 4,600 hospitals, 15,000 nursing homes, and 6,300 dialysis centers — in addition to ProPublica’s original research like the recently-developed Surgeon Scorecard.

Yelp-Health-ReviewsThis morning, Charles Orenstein of ProPublica posted this blog titled “Stay Far, Far Away,” based on one patient’s review posted on Yelp. The review was for a dental clinic and the title snipped was taken from an entire sentence-warning the consumer wrote: “Learn from my terrible experience and stay far, far away.”

As the bar chart illustrates, the vast majority of Yelp’s healthcare reviews over all types of providers receive 4 or 5 stars. Reviews of physicians are more distributed across the 5-star ratings, with 6 in 10 getting 4 or 5 stars. 1 in 4 (23%) receive only 1 or 2 stars.

Poor reviews on Yelp have led the AMA and individual physicians to protest the concept: you can read coverage of this discontent in a 2010 column in American Medical News here. JAMA, the Journal of the AMA, published a study on consumer awareness, perceptions, and use of online physician rating sites in 2014. The study found that 60% of patients believe physicians’ ratings on websites are important when looking for a primary care physician. Furthermore, of those who used such a site to see a physician, 35% picked a doctor based on good ratings, and 27% avoided doctors with bad ratings.

Here is Jeremy Stoppelman’s 2003 interview with Mashable on his motivation for starting Yelp in the first place: “solve my own need of finding a great doctor.”

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  The growth of consumer-directed health plans, and especially high-deductible insurance plans and health savings accounts, is driving patients’ demand for information like Yelp’s healthcare reviews. Health provider report cards and ratings organizations have provided some of this information for the better part of a decade (and even longer for HealthGrades). But consumers have had trouble locating these sources, finding the kinds of data points they’re most interested to know about, and lacking comprehensive information enabling fully-informed decision making.

Yelp’s joining with ProPublica will help to fill in this information gap so crucial to realizing true consumer-directed healthcare. Physicians and other health providers will have to get used to being compared, reviewed, dissed and “liked” in the public forum the way restaurants, washing machines, and hotel rooms are rated.

Consumers are social, health is social, and peer-to-peer healthcare is the new normal for patients, caregivers, and consumers.