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How Yelp is Evolving in the Era of Big Data

Yelp may be best known for its restaurant and nightclub reviews, but the site’s seeds were actually planted when CEO Jeremy Stoppelman had trouble finding recommendations for a local doctor. Health providers now account for a rapidly growing six percent of Yelp’s reviewed businesses. Thanks to a new partnership with ProPublica, the site’s star ratings system is being supplemented with objective healthcare data.

ProPublica is helping Yelp to identify health metrics – including average wait times for emergency rooms and fines paid by nursing homes – to add to its provider pages. They are now available on nearly 26,000 pages, and more are coming soon. As part of the partnership, Yelp also is allowing ProPublica unprecedented access to its 1.3 million health reviews to help with our reporting.

This week, Stoppelman joins ProPublica senior reporter Charles Ornstein to discuss the debate over online reviews of health providers and Yelp’s increasing use of data across the site.

(Illustration: Emily Martinez/ProPublica)

Highlights from their conversation:

  • Despite claims to the contrary by some displeased doctors, patients seem qualified to evaluate medical services. Stoppelman points to emerging academic research showing “a correlation between the ratings of a medical establishment and other sources of information that are perceived as quite objective.” Patients also provide insights on the full experience, not just the actual medical care delivered. (5:05)
  • Yelp is poised to become a “one-stop shop,” integrating data across several review categories. Along with new information on its health provider pages, some of Yelp’s restaurant pages now feature health inspection scores. While Stoppelman says consumer opinions are important, other sources of information make Yelp “that much more powerful of a tool.” (7:55)
  • The federal government has the green light to join the Yelp masses. The site already has thousands of reviews of federal agencies, but for years those agencies were not authorized to reply. A new partnership between Yelp and the federal government has changed this, allowing government organizations to claim their own pages and start interacting with the public. (13:20)

Listen to this podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher. For more on ProPublica’s partnership with Yelp, read Ornstein’s story, ‘Stay Far, Far Away’ and Other Things Gleaned From Yelp Health Reviews.

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