People are turning to online reviews more than ever to help make healthcare decisions. As many as 80 percent of internet users looked online for health information and nearly one out of every five of these searches were about a specific provider, according to Pew Internet Research.

And it isn’t just young people, as more members of the baby boom generation are using smart phones equipped with Google or Safari to do the research.

“Twenty years ago when you had a bad experience, you told 10 people who told 10 people who told 10 people,” said Amanda Henson, Director of Online Reputation Management for Kindred Healthcare. “Now you tell 100,000 of your closest friends online.”

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Henson helps Kindred’s locations around the U.S. to learn how to engage their patients to obtain helpful reviews for future patients and families to use. We asked Henson what people should look for as they’re making these important care decisions, and her tips of the trade are below.

Why are reviews important in making healthcare decisions?

Reviews allow you to see the most complete story about the care that’s offered by a healthcare provider and the environment in which it’s provided. Reviews can give you the holistic view of the type of care you will receive, such as the types of food at the facility, how new the equipment is, the disposition of the personalities of the nurses and caregivers. The kinds of things you won’t find in a brochure.

What sites are the most helpful when looking for reviews?

Google and Facebook. Google is the number 1 search engine where everyone goes to read and leave reviews. Facebook is the biggest social media provider, and people feel comfortable going where they’re already sharing opinions.  

For healthcare, more specifically, you can visit Caring.com and SeniorAdvisor.com, which are set up specifically for reviews for in-home care providers, assisted living homes, and nursing homes. Sites like Healthgrades.com give an in-depth look at a specific physician, while RateMDs.com will often provide a more honest look because the reviews are anonymous. Sometimes, when people don’t leave their name, they’re more likely to give an honest look at the care they receive.

What should people look for when looking at reviews?

You can find the services the healthcare provider provides on their website. In reviews, you’ll find out if the provider will treat you like a person. Look for information in the body of the reviews – does the review specify:

  • Do they outline how the caregiver or physician spoke to them, such as offering strictly medical advice or offering caring advice?
  • Was there open communication?
  • Are they talking about specific nurses and caregivers within that setting?
  • Did anyone on their care team go above and beyond?
  • How often were they visited while they were receiving care?
  • Do they discuss the types of care they received?

Is there ever a time when a review may not be accurate?

Yes. The first thing you want to do is look for transparency because no one is perfect. If a place has all positive reviews, that’s not the average. There will be a concern or issue, and how the healthcare provider handles it is important. Are they responding to the review, are they giving an outlet for the person to get in contact with them? That shows that they care about getting to the bottom of the issue, they’re reading the reviews to make changes to better handle patient care in the future.

But also look for fake reviews. Does the reviewer use “I, my, our?” Are they specific about their experience? If it’s a broad statement, such as, “I hated this place,” or “I loved this place,” then it isn’t very helpful.

If people see a negative review, should they write off that provider?  

Not always. If you see a negative review and the provider did not respond, reach out to them. Either call or do a tour of the facility, and ask them about the reviews. Print out the negative review if you’re touring in person, and ask them to explain the changes they’ve made to handle the issue. They can’t tell you about the case because of medical confidentiality, but they can tell you about the operational changes they’ve made to address the case.

How many reviews should people read?

Read as many reviews as you can, but at least 5-10 because that gives you a much broader idea of what’s going on. One or two reviews only shows what’s going on in the past month or two. Read the last five or six months to see positive and negative reviews. Reading that far back also gives you the opportunity to establish whether the location made operational changes to better care for the patient based on past issues.

Would you encourage people to leave online reviews after they themselves receive healthcare?

One thing I tell our locations across the country about capturing reviews is that an unhappy person will almost always leave a review. A happy person is so much less likely, but it means so much to hear from the people you care for.

At Kindred, we want our reviews to reflect the full story of the care you are either going to receive or provide. That’s why we encourage all of our patients to leave a review, because positive reviews tell the success stories of our patients’ journey and incredible work to get better – and they deserve for it to be told.

Henson says she has used reviews to make healthcare decisions for herself and her loved ones.

“I have been the patient, I’ve been the caregiver, and now I work as a provider,” Henson said. “I feel l have a unique perspective. As a consumer, you need to be educated. You need to know what’s happening before you make a healthcare decision, because they are some of the biggest, most highly necessary decisions you will ever make in a highly emotional time.”

If you've done your research online and still have healthcare questions, call 1.866.KINDRED to speak with a Registered Nurse 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We can help identify care options in your area.