Commercial MDS Systems Linked to Higher Nursing Home Quality Scores

Questions about care quality have been raised as more hospitals and skilled nursing residences migrate their paperwork onto computer based information-technologies (IT). Consequentially, researchers have turned their attention to this relationship in hopes that advanced IT can help streamline information sharing and improve health outcomes.  A new report from researchers at Washington State University explores the role of electronic resident assessments contained in the Minimum Data Set (MDS) plays in the quality of care in nursing homes.

Nursing homes have been slow to adopt new ITs. One study estimated that only 8% of nursing homes used IT to view outcomes and only 1% used electronic health records. The exception is the widespread use of MDS software in nursing homes. By 2005, nearly 82% of nursing homes were using commercial MDS software systems.  All Medicare or Medicaid certified nursing homes are required to use the MDS as a uniform quality reporting system. In response to this requirement, software vendors developed a host of commercial software related to the MDS that provide a means to streamline reporting to state government offices, improve the quality of care statistics, and enhance communications within nursing homes.

The primary obstacles regarding adopting new technologies are cost and workforce computing capacity. Nursing homes are often reluctant to invest in new technologies because they fear the training and staff time it will require.  Most new technologies are fairly straightforward but require some skill in manipulating data sets and creating reports, which creates additional hurdles to implementation.

This new research report should provide some comfort to nursing home providers skeptical of the payoff in investing in new care technologies. This study examined users of the MDS and compared nursing homes that utilized advanced IT features beyond the basic MDS functions to those utilizing the basic MDS. The results indicate that nursing homes that use more advanced IT functions relevant to resident care and do so on a routine basis demonstrate significantly higher quality scores.

This study provides solid evidence that the quality of care can be enhanced by commercial MDS technologies that help coordinate care, share care information about residents among staff, and enhance communication of staff. In the long run, the cost of purchasing new technologies and training the workforce may be offset by gains related to increased care quality and resident satisfaction.

Source: Liu, D., Castle, N., Diesel, J. 2010. Does use of advanced information technology in Commercial Minimum Data Set systems improve the quality of nursing care? American Journal of Medical Quality 25:116-127.

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