‘I told you I was ill’ – the importance of patient communication

When analyzing reviews of hospitals on Yelp, researchers from Penn Medicine found that the word most associated with negative reviews, including those rated at one-star, was ‘told’, which appeared almost 20 per cent of posts. Published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, the study points to the value patients place on communication in health care settings.

Among the one-star reviews the researchers saw that featured ‘told’ were frustrations about information that was ostensibly shared (‘They never told me the cost of any of the procedures’), anger at a lack of listening (‘I told her I did not want to discuss it any more but she persisted to badger me’) and feelings of futility (‘Some idiot doctor examined me and told me there was nothing they could do for me’).

Anish Agarwal, the study’s lead author, said: ‘Oftentimes, words such as ‘told’ hint at a breakdown in communication. I suspect that patients are not feeling listened to or heard and this could be driving poor experiences and low reviews.’

After analysing 51,376 reviews for 1,566 US hospitals, researchers found that the word ‘told’ appeared in 9,578 reviews, which, taken together, averaged 1.78 stars.

When it came to positive reviews, the word ‘friendly’ was found in nearly 11 per cent of them. Along with the word ‘great’ it correlated the most with five-star reviews. In these, reviews often focused on the clinical staff’s demeanor and attentiveness (‘The entire staff was very friendly and made sure we were taken care of’).

While official surveys about hospital experiences are available, the study authors feel that Yelp reviews are a valuable tool to view unfiltered thoughts and feelings.

‘Friends, family members and patients all can post a review from their unique perspectives on their hospital experience,’ Agarwal explained. ‘Even more, these online review sites usually do not have prompts or a list of questions to guide people, which means the individual posting the review can comment on what comes to mind and, perhaps, what means most to them.’