— -- If you are at a loss when picking a new doctor, nursing home or even emergency room, you can now turn to the Yelp app for guidance.
The website and app joined forces with nonprofit newsroom ProPublica to mine government data for important information about health care providers. The data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is then broken down into handy categories to give users more clear information.
If you’re looking for a nursing home, for instance, you should be able to see new data including number of beds at the facility, or whether there are serious deficiencies or fines levied on the center. For emergency rooms and hospitals, you can see average wait times and how communicative doctors were, among other bits of information.
Data for 25,000 health care facilities is available on Yelp.
Luther Lowe, vice president of Public Policy at Yelp, said 6 percent of reviewed businesses on the site are related to health.
“I think the goal here is to augment information that consumers are already using,” Lowe said, adding the idea is to give consumers “supplemental information” for their health care decisions.
Health experts say the data could be helpful to consumers and point out it is already available to the public through the website of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Art Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, said he thinks this is only a first step in a movement to get patients more information.
“You’re going to be looking a little bit less at the diplomas on the wall and a little bit more on the useful outcome metrics,” he said.
While the information could be helpful, Caplan said it’s important to remember picking a hospital or nursing home isn’t the same thing as finding a favorite restaurant because customers don’t always have much choice about where they go in the event of an emergency, in the case of a hospital.
“It also isn’t a market the way going to restaurants or buying cars is. We don’t really have the ability to always pick where we’re going to get our care,” he said, citing emergency rooms.
He also said the data should be considered one component of a larger decision and that there will need to be some course corrections and explanation for providers going forward.
“Health care institutions [could say], ‘If we deal with harder cases or sicker people or poorer people, we have less stellar data and that’s penalizing us for taking harder cases,” Caplan said. “They’re right, but the effort should be to explain that and adjust it” in data form.