The federal government on Thursday announced a major shake-up to its consumer-facing database of skilled nursing facility quality information, revealing plans to merge Nursing Home Compare into a more comprehensive website that features data about care sites across the continuum.
Sometime later this year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will combine all eight of its current Compare sites into one tool called Medicare Care Compare, CMS administrator Seema Verma wrote in a Thursday blog post.
“To meet the needs of today’s Medicare beneficiaries and improve the online Medicare customer experience, CMS plans to combine and standardize these eight existing Compare tools, allowing users to access the same information through a single point of entry and simplified navigation to find the information that is currently divided in places like Nursing Home Compare and Hospital Compare,” Verma wrote.
Nursing Home Compare serves as the home of CMS’s five-star quality ratings for the nation’s more than 15,000 nursing facilities, providing both prospective residents and potential investors with a quick snapshot of a given property’s performance.
The federal government maintains seven other Compare sites, including databases for home health agencies, hospitals, and dialysis facilities. The current siloed setup, Verma asserted, makes it more difficult for patients and families to find clear answers about the care options in their area.
“Although they are among the most popular and used sections of the Medicare website, each one functions independently with varying user interfaces that make them difficult to understand and challenging to navigate,” Verma wrote.
The combined site will also allow users to compare care quality across settings, according to Verma.
“In the new, unified experience, patients will be able to easily find the information that is most important to help make health care decisions, like getting quality data by the type of health care provider,” she wrote.
In conjunction with the Compare shake-up, CMS will also roll out a new “Provider Data Catalog” aimed at researchers, lawmakers, and other stakeholders. The updated catalog will present a more streamlined and intuitive interface than the current data.Medicare.gov site, Verma claimed.
CMS did not provide a firm date for the changeover, though Verma indicated that a formal rollout will come sometime this spring — with a grace period during which the old system will remain up and running before eventually being phased out.
Federal officials will also solicit feedback from providers and other stakeholders in the coming weeks to help shape the final product.
“We’ll continue to make improvements leading up to and following the launch as part of our iterative improvement process, and are committed to ensuring beneficiaries and other users have access to the accurate and useful comparison information they rely on,” Verma wrote.
Under Verma’s watch, CMS has embarked on several updates to the five-star rating system for nursing homes, including the introduction of separate metrics for short- and long-term stays and the implementation of stricter benchmarks for achieving top grades.
“Our updates to Nursing Home Compare reflect more transparent and meaningful information about the quality of care that each nursing home is giving its residents,” Verma said in a March 2019 statement on the agency’s five-star upgrades. “Our goal is to drive quality improvements across the industry and empower consumers to make decisions, with more confidence, for their loved ones.”
CMS also last year introduced a controversial warning icon for facilities with abuse citations. The move has drawn the ire of industry leaders who have argued that it unfairly punishes operators with a symbol that essentially tells prospective residents and their families: “Do not proceed.”
Janine Finck-Boyle, vice president of regulatory affairs for industry trade group LeadingAge, praised CMS’s Thursday decision to consolidate its Compare sites, indicating that the organization will work with the federal government to provide input on the finished version — while also renewing calls to incorporate more qualitative resident feedback in the overall ratings.
“This initiative offers a great opportunity for CMS to reevaluate and improve Nursing Home Compare,” Finck-Boyle said in a statement provided to SNN. “For instance, LeadingAge has and continues to urge CMS to incorporate the resident’s voice in Nursing Home Compare through data collection processes similar to the CAHPS utilized on Hospice Compare and the HCAHPS found on Hospital Compare.”
Finck-Boyle also took the opportunity to criticize the warning icon, asking CMS to reconsider the use of the logo.
“We believe that important information on providers should be shared in a clear and consistent manner in order to ensure that consumers get up-to-date and accurate information about what they can expect when receiving care and services in a given nursing home,” she said. “The icon, as we have stated, is misleading and cannot provide consumers with the relevant information needed when selecting care for a loved one.”
David Gifford, chief medical officer of the American Health Care Association, similarly praised CMS for the move, while also offering additional suggestions for improvement.
“While we support efforts to make a single site with easier ways to find information, we also urge CMS to look at making sure the same information is available for all providers,” Gifford told SNN in a statement. “As we have previously stated, CMS should also add customer satisfaction to Nursing Home Compare because that is the best way for consumers to select facilities and is information available for most other providers.”