Using Yelp to Attract Patients: 5 Best Practices

Yelp, a popular consumer reviews website, was created when co-founder Jeremy Stoppelman needed to find a healthcare provider.      

His struggle to find online reviews and recommendations on local healthcare providers back in 2004 sparked the idea for Yelp. Today, the site has over 100 million monthly visitors and 36 million reviews on local businesses, including hospitals.

Though health and medical related businesses account for only 6 percent of all reviews on the site, these reviews do influence healthcare consumers. According to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report, 41 percent of consumers said information found on social media, including Yelp, would affect their choice of hospital.

Connie C. Bonebrake, senior vice president and chief patient experience officer for Charlotte, N.C.-based Carolinas HealthCare System, agrees Yelp's influence is only growing as more people look online for reviews on hospitals, and "it is important for us [administrators] to acknowledge this trend as a natural progression in our industry and to have a presence."

So how can hospitals use Yelp to attract patients?

1. See Yelp as a business tool. Former hospital COO Christina Thielst, currently president at patient experience consulting group Tower and author of "Social Media in Healthcare: Connect, Communicate, and Collaborate," sees a "huge opportunity for improvement" when it comes to hospital's relationship with Yelp. "Not many hospitals have Yelp strategies," or engage regularly with the site, she said.

They should. Not only does Yelp provide insight into a hospital's own patients, says Ms. Thielst, it offers information about the community the hospital serves and competing hospitals in the area.

"It really is a social business tool," she said.  

2. Use the business tools provided by Yelp. Once their Yelp listing is claimed, or 'unlocked,' on the site, hospitals are able to privately and publicly respond to reviewers, addressing concerns as well as managing the hospital's public image on the site. Rachel Walker, a public relations specialist with Yelp, recommends responding to reviews "diplomatically and on time," noting that reviewers can and do change their reviews if their issue is addressed. Jequeatta Upton Smith, MPH, director of advocate experience and digestive health for Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, already actively engages with reviewers on Yelp: "Every time we receive a review, we acknowledge it with a private and public response on Yelp, as appropriate," she said.    

Hospitals can also gain additional insight into potential patients with information on how many users click through to the hospital's website, how many call the listed phone number, how many bookmark the site for future reference and more in Yelp's Business Center.  

3. Add content and photos. "Content is king for hospitals," said Morgan Remmers, manager of local business outreach for Yelp. Adding specialties and other information to a listing makes it easier for users to find in searches, and this information compliments reviews to provide a more thorough view of the hospital for prospective patients.

Don't forget about providing an actual view of the hospital as well— photos of the hospital can be extremely useful, especially for patients attempting to locate the building, Ms. Remmers said.

4. Communicate feedback to all staff members. "Keep in mind all staff can be reviewed [on Yelp]," said Ms. Remmers, not just physicians, noting that patient experience, and online review, is shaped by all staff members encountered during a visit.

The staff member who manages the hospital's presence on Yelp should have not only the time to monitor the account, but be in a position to communicate feedback and suggestions for improvement with employees throughout the organization, she said.

5. Use reviews to improve patient experience for future patients.
Many hospitals already engage with online patient feedback of some sort to improve quality of care offered. Lisa Schiller, vice president of marketing, public relations and government relations at Rex Healthcare in Raleigh, N.C., says, "We regularly engage people online, especially as a way to encourage feedback and learn how we can improve."

In her work as a consultant, Ms. Thielst has seen how Yelp in particular can provide a "reality check" for hospitals, confirming known problems and exposing unknown issues for a hospital to address. A recent study published in BMJ Quality & Safety confirms Ms. Thielst's observations that Yelp reviews provide valuable feedback to hospitals— the study showed Yelp ratings to be an accurate indicator of a patient satisfaction, and even found high ratings on the site to be positively correlated with lower mortality and readmission rates.

As consumers increasingly turn to social media sites like Yelp to gather information about hospitals in their area, hospitals can in turn gain valuable information about current and potential patients from turning to Yelp themselves.  

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