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Lawsuits Aren't Improving Nursing Home Care: Study
Date:3/30/2011

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, March 30 (HealthDay News) -- High-quality nursing homes get sued almost as often as low-quality nursing homes, a new study shows.

Researchers say the finding illustrates that litigation, or the threat of litigation, doesn't lead to improvements in patient care. Nor does it appear that better nursing homes are rewarded for superior care in terms of fewer lawsuits.

"Nursing homes that are at the very top of the heap in terms of quality don't experience that much less litigation than nursing homes that are at the bottom of the heap," said lead study author David Studdert, a law professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia. "It's not clear that by improving your quality dramatically you will lessen your risk of being sued."

That's a problem, said study co-author David Stevenson, an associate professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, because one objective of litigation, other than compensating victims of medical malpractice, is encouraging high-quality care.

In other words, if a nursing home is good, it ought to face less of a threat of lawsuits than one that's sub-standard. But the research didn't bear that out.

"The results are sobering," Stevenson said. "One of the fundamental things that the risk of a malpractice claim is supposed to spur is deterring poor quality care. What we found was that the return on being a high-quality facility relative to a low-quality facility isn't great."

The study is published in the March 31 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Five large U.S. nursing home chains provided the researchers with information on lawsuits brought against them between 1998 and 2006. Researchers looked at the alleged reason for the suit and the outcome, not whether the lawsuits had merit or not.

During that period, plaintiffs filed 4,716 claims against 1,465 nursing homes. On average, e
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