Online Review Use in Assisted Living Facility Selection
IndustryView | 2014
One of the most important decisions of life’s golden years is where to spend them—and these days, online reviews are helping people choose a variety of products and services, from running shoes to retirement communities. With as much as 88 percent of North American consumers now trusting reviews as much as personal recommendations, reviews can help ensure health and happiness in old age by providing candid insights on the many housing options available to seniors.
Narrowing down those options, however, can be a complicated process. Significant differences between elder care settings (e.g. assisted living facilities versus nursing homes) must first be evaluated. Even after that part is decided, a wealth of other factors remains to be considered—for example, the varying services and fees charged by different facilities.
With that in mind, Software Advice ran an online survey to determine who is using online reviews to choose assisted living facilities, and how they’re using those reviews. We screened our sample to include only people who are currently looking, or have recently looked, for an assisted living facility for themselves or a loved one.
The vast majority of people currently or recently evaluating assisted living facilities (82 percent) told us they used online reviews at some point in their selection process. The remaining 18 percent said they did not use online reviews at all for this purpose.
That works out to roughly eight out of 10 assisted living facility seekers who consulted online reviews. (Note that the rest of this report will focus only on those people who did consult online reviews to research assisted living facility options.)
With such a high number of people using online reviews for research, it’s no wonder the long-term care industry has begun paying attention. The Assisted Living Federation of America, a trade association for senior living communities, even addressed the trend at its recent conference with a panel discussion on senior living Internet shoppers and the impact online shopping is having on the industry.
The greatest percentage of our respondents (42 percent) said they were most likely to seek online reviews as a first step in researching an assisted living facility. Thirty percent said they would consult online reviews to narrow down a short list of possible facilities, and 28 percent would use them to validate a tentative choice.
These findings show the importance for assisted living facilities of having positive online reviews, as they’re often the first impression facility seekers will get. Too many negative reviews could lead prospective residents or their loved ones to discount facilities more quickly—perhaps without even speaking to a facility representative.
Indeed, studies have shown this to be the case for shoppers across industries: For example, DemandGen researchers found that 77 percent of business-to-business buyers would not speak with a salesperson until after they had performed independent research.
Next, we asked respondents to select which online reviews sources they were most likely to access and which they found most trustworthy, from a list we provided them. Google (through the Google+ Local platform) was the top response, with 26 percent of our sample being most likely to consult it and 25 percent trusting it the most.
We were surprised to see Google’s reviews surpass our other answer options. Google’s ubiquity as a research resource could explain why this is so, trumping the fact that SeniorAdvisor.com and Caring.com both specialize in senior community ratings and reviews. However, both specialty sites still draw a significant amount of assisted living facility seekers (more than 10 percent each). Thus, checking the accuracy of listings on all online reviews platforms can help facilities ensure the broadest exposure to potential residents.
For facility seekers, while reading online reviews may help with the selection process, experts also recommend digging deeper into a facility’s background to get the full picture about quality of care. Public government records can be requested and accessed to check for documented violations or other substandard care concerns that may not be fully explained in assisted living facility reviews. After all, not everyone who has a bad experience at a facility leaves a review about it.
We also asked respondents to share whether they would consider spending more money on a facility if it had better online reviews than a similar, but less expensive, facility. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) told us they would pay more for a better-reviewed facility by varying amounts, while 27 percent said they would not.
Based on these findings, good online reviews can be seen as marketing tools to attract high-paying residents. It is worth noting that the majority of respondents (28 percent) told us they would spend “significantly more” for a well-reviewed facility. This indicates that consumers are not only using reviews in the selection process—they are incorporating reviews significantly in their budgeting decisions, too.
This is a reflection of overall consumer patterns, as online reviews have proven to influence purchasing decisions. Research from one of our previous studies, for example, showed that a combined 59 percent of software buyers were “extremely” or “very likely” to purchase one product over another if that product had more positive online reviews.
We also asked respondents what the top three most important types of information were that an assisted living facility should have listed in its profile—that is, in the general background information typically listed separately from the review itself—on a given reviews site.
The most common pick was information related to facility costs and billing and payment options, chosen by 41 percent of respondents. This was followed by details about the location (40 percent) and number of years the facility has been operating (27 percent).
According to a recent long-term care provider survey, the median cost of care in an assisted living facility is $42,000 annually—the result of a 4.29 percent increase over the past five years. Such an expense would, for most, require significant financial planning, which could explain why facility seekers are most eager to learn about billing and payment options.
The importance of listing location information in reviews profiles could be indicative of the country’s disproportionate availability of assisted living facilities. One Harvard study ranked states by the number of assisted living beds per 1,000 people aged 65 and older. Researchers found facilities were located mostly “in areas with higher educational attainment, income and housing wealth.” Thus, prospective residents or their families in states with limited availability may have to move or commute farther than they originally wanted.
Respondents were also asked to select their top three choices for what information they considered most important in assisted living facility online reviews (in other words, within the information provided by reviewers themselves).
There was a three-way tie for the top spot, with exactly 38 percent of respondents ranking three types of information equally: details about amenities (e.g., whether the facility provided transportation or common areas), services (e.g., whether the facility offered meals or an on-call doctor) and ratings scores (an average score or star rating based on the facility’s aggregated reviews).
The data shows that the ratings scores assigned by online reviews sites based on the number or degree of positive reviews are just as important to facility seekers as knowing what amenities and services are offered. This means that even if a facility invests thousands of dollars in offerings for residents, it’s possible those efforts would go unnoticed or ignored due to bad feedback from reviewers.
While facilities cannot control the content of reviews and comments, it is possible for them to gauge what type of content will have the biggest impact on facility seekers. To that end, we asked respondents what they would consider the top three most important kinds of feedback gleaned from the write-in comments sections of online reviews sites (in which other residents and/or their loved ones can comment on what a reviewer wrote).
Thirty-seven percent said they would first look for comments about the facility’s environment and cleanliness. The second most important type of information (selected by 31 percent of respondents) was about the availability and quality of medical assistance. Finally, 27 percent of people said they wanted to know what others thought about the level of staff engagement with facility residents.
Our research shows just how influential online reviews can be in the assisted living facility selection process. When comparing our results to previous studies, we were surprised to find that many more people use online reviews to choose assisted living facilities than they do to choose doctors or lawyers. This represents a valuable opportunity for facilities to leverage online reviews sites for the purpose of attracting potential residents—especially as the senior population continues to grow in the U.S.
According to government estimates, nearly one in five Americans will be age 65 or older by 2030. Assisted living facilities can prepare for this influx of potential residents by building a positive online presence now. Proactive steps can be taken to get more, higher-quality reviews—lest occupancy rate goals be negatively affected. Some best practices for doing so include checking the facility’s profiles on online review sites for accuracy; responding quickly and courteously to negative reviews and comments and incentivizing residents and/or their loved ones by offering prizes for each completed review (regardless of whether the review is positive or negative).
To find the data in this report, we conducted a two-day online survey of eight questions, and gathered 2,711 responses from random people within the United States. We worded the questions to ensure that each respondent fully understood their meaning and the topic at hand.
Sources attributed and products referenced in this article may or may not represent partner vendors of Software Advice, but vendor status is never used as a basis for selection.
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