Beyond Restaurant Ratings: Why Yelp Teamed Up With a Health Funder

photo:  Lolostock/shutterstock

photo:  Lolostock/shutterstock

Whether you’re looking for a fun place to eat, somewhere to get a tire repaired, or a new hair salon, many of us turn to Yelp. It's a go-to online source for user reviews and recommendations, but there’s also a philanthropic side to all those ratings.

Yelp is an important tech giver in the Bay Area. It has been ranked as one of the Bay Area’s top corporate philanthropists, with support going to groups that serve meals, offer childcare, overcome domestic abuse and bring the arts to underprivileged students. More recently, Yelp has teamed up with a statewide health foundation that we’ve covered here at IP that addresses maternity care.

The anxious days and sleepless nights of today’s modern pregnant woman are filled with online searches about what’s normal, what’s a cause for concern, and where to go for care. There’s a ton of misinformation out there, making it hard for expectant mothers to find the reliable advice they need to make informed health decisions—including on the all-important question of where to give birth. 

That's a common problem with the U.S. healthcare system overall: Consumers lack the information they need to be empowered in the face of complex choices and high costs for care that can vary wildly in quality. A key downside with leaving consumers in the dark is that it's hard to create healthcare markets where providers compete to deliver better care at lower prices—a goal that nearly everyone agrees is important, given the monumental inefficiencies of America's $3 trillion healthcare system. Any number of healthcare funders are working to empower health consumers and patients.

A partnership established this summer between Yelp and the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF) takes an innovative approach to this challenge. It seeks to facilitate a way to display maternity care measures for at least 250 California hospitals that deliver babies. Cal Hospital Compare is a trustworthy website created by CHCF, but most pregnant women haven’t heard of it. Instead, they’re going to Yelp and sifting through the complaints and praises of total strangers to decide where to seek care.

But now, with this partnership, pregnant women will see a little more useful data when they pull up Yelp in their browsers. This data includes things like the percentage of C-sections for low-risk, first-time pregnancies, and the percentage of newborns fed breast milk only before being discharged. Other data Yelp displays for these hospitals touches on how often episiotomies are performed and how many women give birth vaginally at the hospital after having had a C-section.

It’s no secret that Yelp has tremendous reach that will probably always outshine websites created by health organizations. Sites created by funders and healthcare institutions tend to be less accessible, overwhelming, and not as user-friendly. But rather than scrapping them altogether or settling for subpar information, this combines the best of both worlds.

Stephanie Teleki, the director of evaluation and impact at CHCF, said:

Yelp is really a megaphone for the clinical quality measures. Those are the more wonky kind of clinical things that a lot of patients can’t understand, so putting them side by side with the comments, hopefully we can acclimate consumers with looking at that kind of data – really socialize the idea that they should be using this data.

While data is only as good as how it's put to use, maternity care is a decent place to start with this kind of project. There’s recently been a statewide push to reduce the risk of unnecessary C-sections in California and to reach the national goal of 23.9 percent for low-risk, first-time births. This is a good example of a foundation-corporate partnership and also a multi-pronged health approach to patient-centered care. CHCF isn’t the only organization interested in this particular issue, either, as Smart Care California, the Pacific Business Group on Health and the Hospital Quality Institute are also involved with this health-focused funder.

Back to Yelp for a moment: The company established the Yelp Foundation in 2011 with 1 percent of its equity. Foundation topics of interest include access to information, education, local economic development and freedom of expression. The Yelp Foundation gives out over $3 million per year, which you can learn more about here. In addition to this giving, it makes sense that it would also be exploring how to put its platform to work for important causes. There's a lot of power in Yelp's extraordinary reach—it had 87 million unique visitors last month in the U.S.—and the impact it could have through creative partnerships could far exceed anything it might achieve through traditional grantmaking.