Why Yelp Could be Superior to Five-Star Ratings for Nursing Homes

Researchers at the University of Southern California believe Yelp nursing home reviews are a useful tool in helping prospective residents or their family members make decisions about facilities, The New York Times reported Friday.

Though reviews posted on Yelp and other online platforms such as Google or the recently acquired Caring.com are not perfect, the issue is Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website, Dr. Anna Rahman of the University of Southern California told the Times.

“After 20 years and all the money spent to create it, it’s become a marketing tool,” she told the publication. “But most people don’t realize how little it measures. It’s garbage in and garbage out.”


The on-site inspections required every 12 to 15 months by Medicare are a major part of the ratings, but staffing and quality measures are reported by nursing homes, and critics have said the metrics are prone to manipulation, the Times noted.

Rahman and colleagues examined 51 Yelp-rated nursing homes in California and found that most reviews commented on intangibles. These included factors like staff attitude and responsiveness and rarely mentioned safety concerns or health care quality. And in an earlier study, they found the Yelp rankings correlated only weakly to Nursing Home Compare’s star ratings.

Other researchers have found that the star ratings do not correlate with how families and residents feel about facilities, even if they are accurate, the Times noted. In addition, Nursing Home Compare does not currently include consumer feedback.


In 2015, Yelp joined with the nonprofit investigative news organization ProPublica to show Yelp users information on the size of each nursing home, the number of serious deficiencies that appeared on its most recent inspections, any levied fines, and whether the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) had ever suspended payments.

Robert Applebaum, a gerontologist at Miami University in Ohio, recommended using as many sources as possible. This could include using Yelp and consumer reviews in addition to Nursing Home Compare and Nursing Home Inspect.

“Everybody has a different piece of the elephant to touch,” he told the Times.

Written by Maggie Flynn

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