The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services unveiled its new “Nursing Home Compare” website on Thursday to help people find and evaluate nursing homes across the United States.
The site features better navigation and has two other major changes.
For the first time, people can view the actual narrative texts of nursing home deficiency reports written by state health department inspectors. Additionally, the site has information about antipsychotic drug use at every nursing home in America.
The Boston Globe in April reported that in 21 percent of nursing homes nationwide in 2010, at least one-quarter of residents without illnesses for which antipsychotics are recommended received the medications.
CMS and the American Health Care Association, a national trade group, are working to reduce the use of antipsychotics in nursing homes by 15 percent this year.
At a telephone press conference on Thursday, Dr. Shari Ling, the CMS deputy chief medical officer, said that zero antipsychotic drug use is not the right number, but said health administrators are trying to get at the notion of what amount of use is inappropriate.
“There has to be an opportunity to use and prescribe those drugs, but the use has to be medically appropriate,” she said.
John Matson, director of communications for the Alabama Nursing Home Association, said the association and its 217 members welcomed the improvements on the CMS Nursing Home Compare site.
“We looked at it this morning and we thought it was a lot more user friendly,” he said, including the home page where consumers can begin to search for nursing homes by entering a city name or a ZIP code.
Matson said posting the narrative texts of nursing home deficiency reports will also help people.
“By putting that on the website, consumers now have the ability to read and understand what these different ratings are based on,” he said.
Ling said the new information available on the website — including new ownership data and updated quality measures — will help point to areas in nursing home care that need improvement and also adds accountability by making more information public.
“We all know the adage,” she said. “What gets measured gets done.”
The site appears to work well for users.
Starting at www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare/, you can enter “Birmingham, AL,” for example, and immediately see a list of 17 nursing homes within 10 miles of the center of the city.
Expanding the search to 25 miles increases number of nursing homes to 35. Users can view them as a table or on a map. Nursing homes can then be selected and compared side-by-side.
The overall ratings vary widely, and two of the homes are additionally flagged with a warning as special focus facilities, due to a recent history of persistent poor quality of care, as indicated by the findings of state or federal inspection teams.
One of the 35 nursing homes is too new to be rated in the one- to five-star overall rating system used by CMS.
Of the other 34, three were rated “much below average” (one star), and 12 were “below average” (two stars).
Two nursing homes were “average” (three stars), nine were “above average” (four stars), and eight were “much above average” (five stars).
The Alabama Nursing Home Association website, www.anha.org/, also has useful information about how to locate and choose a nursing home. Matson said about 95 percent of the nursing homes in the state are members of the association.
“We always say that it’s good to start on the web,” Matson said, “but nothing takes the place of visiting in person.”
If you were looking for a school for your child, Matson said, you’d want to talk to the principal and teachers.
“We suggest they visit two or three nursing homes, then go back and have a meeting with the staff,” he said. “Talk to the administrator and the director of nursing.”
CMS also on Thursday unveiled a similarly improved “Hospital Compare” website that includes new information on use of medical imaging.