Threat of lawsuits does not incentivize improved care, study says

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Nursing homes with high quality ratings are sued almost as often as lower performing nursing homes, according to a new study published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Additionally, dispelling a popular belief, researchers found litigation or its likelihood does not necessarily result in better care. Researchers led by David M. Studdert, LLB, Sc.D., of the University of Melbourne in Australia analyzed information about nursing home lawsuits provided by five large U.S. nursing home chains, between 1998 and 2006. On average, each nursing home received one claim every two years. The most common lawsuits responded to falls (26.6%) and pressure ulcers/bed sores (15.9%). Other notable claims cited dehydration, malnutrition and excessive weight loss, physical or verbal abuse and medication errors.

"The results are sobering," the study's co-author David Stevenson, told HealthDay News. “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."

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