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N Engl J Med. 2011 Mar 31;364(13):1243-50. doi: 10.1056/NEJMsa1009336.

Relationship between quality of care and negligence litigation in nursing homes.

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  • 1Melbourne School of Population Health, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC, Australia.



It is unclear whether high-quality health care institutions are less likely to be sued for negligence than their low-performing counterparts.


We linked information on tort claims brought against 1465 nursing homes between 1998 and 2006 to 10 indicators of nursing home quality drawn from two U.S. national data sets: the Online Survey, Certification, and Reporting system and the Minimum Data Set Quality Measure/Indicator Report. We tested for associations between the incidence of claims and the quality measures at the facility calendar-quarter level, correcting for facility clustering and adjusting for case mix, ownership, occupancy, year, and state. Odds ratios were calculated for the effect of a change of 1 SD in each quality measure on the odds of one or more claims in each facility calendar-quarter.


Nursing homes with more deficiencies (odds ratio, 1.09; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.05 to 1.13) and those with more serious deficiencies (odds ratio, 1.04; 95% CI, 1.00 to 1.08) had higher odds of being sued; this was also true for nursing homes that had more residents with weight loss (odds ratio, 1.05; 95% CI, 1.01 to 1.10) and with pressure ulcers (odds ratio, 1.09; 95% CI, 1.05 to 1.14). The odds of being sued were lower in nursing homes with more nurse's aide-hours per resident-day (odds ratio, 0.95; 95% CI, 0.91 to 0.99). However, all these effects were relatively small. For example, nursing homes with the best deficiency records (10th percentile) had a 40% annual risk of being sued, as compared with a 47% risk among nursing homes with the worst deficiency records (90th percentile).


The best-performing nursing homes are sued only marginally less than the worst-performing ones. Such weak discrimination may subvert the capacity of litigation to provide incentives to deliver safer care.

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