The internet has changed how consumers experience healthcare. People now search the internet for information on a particular health problem they may be having, for example.

In fact, 6 in 10 people said they turned to the internet for health problems within the previous year, according to a 2013 survey by Pew Research Center. Consumers are also increasingly using online rating programs to rate and review hospitals.

In a new study, published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, researchers describe and compare the content and ratings of online reviews of urgent care centers and emergency departments (EDs).

Evaluating Online Reviews for Urgent Care Centers and Emergency Departments

Anish K. Agarwal, MPH, of the Penn Medicine Department of Emergency Medicine in Philadelphia and colleagues performed a retrospective analysis of 100,949 Yelp reviews, 16,447 reviews from 1,566 EDs and 84,502 reviews from 5,601 urgent care centers, written between May 2005 and March 2017.

These Yelp reviews use a star system, in which consumers could assign a star level to their level of satisfaction with the services provided by an emergency department. A low, one-star rating represents dissatisfaction with the services provided by an ED, for example, while a five-star rating means the patient was satisfied with the care he or she received.

The team examined the one-star and five-star ratings to identify clear drivers of these very low or very high patient ratings. Using the automated process known as Latent Dirichlet Allocation, the researchers were able to analyze the co-occurrences of words and identify themes in large data sets.

The researchers found that there were vastly more five-star reviews for urgent care centers than there were 5-star ED reviews, at 51 and 27 percent respectively.

Certain themes emerged with the five-star reviews. These themes include professionalism, pain management, communication, comfort and more. Some of the themes were similar between EDs and urgent care centers of the same star level, which means that both types of organizations did equally well with those themes.

Other themes were unique to EDs or urgent care centers; patients may have been happier with the bedside manner at EDs, for example, than they were with the bedside manners of urgent care clinics.

Themes for the five-star reviews among urgent care centers and emergency departments were similar when it came to professionalism, comfort, facilities, staff interaction, and pediatric care. This means patients were as happy with the EDs’ professionalism and comfort as they were with the professionalism and comfort provided by urgent care.

Themes associated with one-star reviews were similar among urgent care centers and EDs when it came to communication, waiting, pain management, telephone experience, billing, and diagnostic testing. The patients felt EDs and urgent care centers provided equally unsatisfactory experiences when it came to these themes.

Themes unique to the five-star reviews for EDs included bedside manner, access, and care for family members, so EDs did better at providing these services than did urgent care centers. Themes unique to five-star urgent care center reviews focused on prescription refills. Themes unique to one-star emergency department reviews were speed of care and service, while lack of confidence and reception experience were themes unique to one-star urgent care center reviews.

Evaluating online ratings can give emergency department administrators, urgent care centers directors and others special insight into what patients value in their healthcare experience. This insight can help improve acute care delivery and patient satisfaction.