No Luck Finding the Right Nursing Home? Maybe Yelp Can Help

Yelp uses software to try to weed out fake reviews and sorts roughly one in five into its “not recommended” category, though users can still read them. Probably its most consumer-friendly move, though, was joining forces in 2015 with the nonprofit investigative news organization ProPublica, which created the tool Nursing Home Inspect with federal data.

Now, Yelp users see a small ProPublica box reporting each nursing home’s size, how many serious deficiencies showed up on its most recent inspections, fines levied and whether the facility is so troubled that C.M.S. has suspended payments. The box also identifies “special focus” facilities flagged for serious quality problems.

Nursing Home Compare is also making changes. Most importantly, C.M.S. now requires nursing homes to submit timecards quarterly, a more auditable staffing measure than annual self-reporting. “A big improvement,” Dr. Schnelle said.

The bottom line, though, is that all these sources have dismaying limitations. Others may be even worse: Nursing homes conduct their own consumer satisfaction surveys, but “they say everybody is as happy as can be,” Dr. Schnelle noted. Online placement services like A Place for Mom get paid by the nursing homes they refer people to.

So experts advise starting your investigation online, using Yelp and other consumer reviews — and Nursing Home Compare and Nursing Home Inspect, and talking to friends and relatives who’ve had recent experience with local facilities.

Then, inescapably, you’ve got to show up at the nursing home, walk around, talk to residents and family and staff, ask a zillion questions. Then, go back and do it again.

Still, online consumer reviews can become part of the effort, and the more we post, the more useful they’ll become.

“You want to use as many sources as you can,” Dr. Applebaum said. “Everybody has a different piece of the elephant to touch.”