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Can Yelp do for hospitals what it's done for restaurants?

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Yelp is a great website for finding a restaurant or bar, but how about a hospital or nursing home?

Early Tuesday, the site announced it would add a wealth of health-care data to listings for more than 25,000 hospitals, nursing homes, and dialysis clinics in an apparent bid to make finding a doctor a bit more like tracking down a good nail salon.

Hospital pages will have information on average emergency room wait times, how good doctors are at communicating, and how quiet the rooms are. Here's what it looked like for a hospital near my house, at Howard University:


Nursing home pages have information about fines the facility has paid in recent years as well as serious deficiencies noted by inspectors:


The data behind the new Yelp listings comes from two places: Medicare and ProPublica, a nonprofit that supports investigative journalism. Both maintain great databases of patient safety information (Medicare's Hospital Compare and ProPublica's Nursing Home Inspect), but both can also be difficult for consumers to navigate. The idea here is to make existing information more accessible.

"We're taking data that otherwise might live in some government pdf that's hard to find and we're putting it in a context where it makes sense for people who may be in the middle of making critical decisions," Yelp's Luther Lowe told Lena Sun at the Washington Post.

Will the new Yelp tool change how Americans shop for health care? I'd wager yes. Right now it's really difficult to compare different facilities. The Hospital Compare database has a wealth of information — we used it to make this map of hospital infection rates — but it's hard for consumers to navigate. There's a deluge of information with dozens of different metrics; reading just one hospital's profile is a bit like drinking from a fire hose.

The data Yelp has decided to include is far from a complete picture. Still, it's probably better information than the word-of-mouth recommendations we often use to pick a hospital — and in a format that's easier to access than before.

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