Study Finds Malpractice Lawsuits Aren't Improving Nursing Home Care

April 23, 2011

According to a HealthDay News article, higher quality nursing homes get sued almost as often as low-quality nursing homes. In a U.S. study lead by David Studdert, a law professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia, the findings indicate that litigation, or the threat of litigation, does not lead to improvements in patient care nor does it appear that better nursing homes are rewarded for superior care in terms of fewer lawsuits.

According to Studdert, "It's not clear that by improving your quality dramatically you will lessen your risk of being sued." This poses a problem because the main purposes of malpractice lawsuits are to compensate victims of malpractice but also to encourage high quality care. Therefore, top scoring nursing homes should have less concerns over malpractice lawsuits, however the research from the study did not support this hypothesis.

The results of this study are published in the March 31 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The research was compiled from five large U.S. nursing home chains that provided the researchers with information on lawsuits brought against them between 1998 and 2006. Researchers looked at the alleged reason for the suit and did not take the the outcome of the case into account.

During those eight years, plaintiffs filed 4,716 claims against 1,465 nursing homes. On average, each nursing home was sued once every two years. The most common claims were fall-related injuries (27%) and pressure ulcers or bedsores (16%). The other claims were for dehydration, malnutrition and excessive weight loss, physical or verbal abuse and medication errors. Of these claims, 61% resulted in a payment, which averaged nearly $200,000 dollars.

According to the study, the nursing homes that did the best on quality measures were only a little less likely to be sued. Nursing homes with the best records had a 40% risk of being sued, while the worst nursing homes had a 47% chance of being sued. The study concluded that lawsuits have little effect on quality of care, and the authors suggest that other long-term efforts, such as public reporting of nursing home conditions and performance-based reimbursement schedules, may be needed to encourage improvements.

According to Chicago medical malpractice lawyer Jason M. Kroot, the primary purpose of any nursing home or malpractice suit is not to improve patient care but to compensate the victim for the damages they sustained from the defendant' negligence.  However, an effectively prosecuted nursing home or malpractice can reveal a fundamental flaw in patient care that can have the secondary benefit of improving patient care.

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