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NYU Engineers Are Helping Visualize Better Healthcare

Enrico Bertini

No longer just a service to find the best taco in your neighborhood, Yelp now includes more than a million reviews of doctors, dentists, and other healthcare providers. The sheer volume of data available on the site can be daunting, however. To alleviate that problem, Assistant Professor Enrico Bertini (an expert in big-data visualization) and his graduate student Cristian Felix helped developed RevEx, which allows a prospective patient to apply multiple filters to his or her query in order to single out reviews with the desired combination of parameters and keywords—say, reviews with 4 stars containing the word “orthodontist”—and to see the results displayed in clear, easy-to-read format.

It was the chance to work on just such important, real-world projects that drew Felix, who earned his undergraduate degree in São Paulo, Brazil, to NYU. “After I applied, Professor Bertini reached out to me personally,” Felix recalls. “And because anyone interested in big-data visualization knows his name, the choice of where to attend graduate school became very plain.” 

A screenshot of RevEx, a data visualization tool to help sort through millions of reviews from Yelp.

A screenshot of RevEx, a data visualization tool to help sort through millions of reviews from Yelp.

Felix explains that while it has always been easy to view star rankings on Yelp entries, RevEx helps provide the “why” behind those rankings. He and fellow researchers discovered, for example, that many doctors who received poor ratings did so not because their medical skills were lacking but because of the attitudes of their office staff—with the words “rude” and “unhelpful” being mentioned in a substantial percentage of bad reviews. Finding an emergency room with the shortest wait time or a doctor with specialized expertise is undeniably more important than discovering the best available sushi, and Felix and his fellow NYU engineers are undeniably making the world a healthier, more efficient place.


Learn more in this NPR piece: "On Yelp, Doctors Get Reviewed Like Restaurants — And It Rankles"