Consumers have come to expect easy access to a lot of information about user satisfaction before they make decisions. When buying items online, for example, it’s now normal to read through reviews and check out product ratings. Would similar information be useful to people choosing a nursing home for a loved one?  Do satisfaction ratings, from nursing home residents and their families, say anything meaningful about the quality of care provided? Or might satisfaction scores provide different kinds of information that existing reports on quality miss?

Pamela Nadash, an associate professor at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School, led a team of researchers who analyzed satisfaction data from nursing homes with these questions in mind. The answer: While satisfaction ratings agreed somewhat with other quality ratings, they also capture something different about the nursing home experience.

“This study really establishes that baseline,” said Nadash. “Satisfaction surveys are not capturing the same thing other quality measures are capturing. There’s something different about nursing home satisfaction.”

Nadash and her co-investigators are planning a series of research projects based on satisfaction data from nursing homes all over the country. But they began with the basic question of whether publicly available quality information was a good predictor of the level of satisfaction at individual homes. They are currently preparing an article describing that work and the details of their results.

“If satisfaction scores replicate what’s already out there, there’s no point in spending lots of money collecting information from nursing home residents because that’s quite an onerous task,” said Nadash. But the data didn’t correlate so neatly.

Resident and family satisfaction surveys are commonly collected for nursing homes by private vendors now. But only three states – Minnesota, Maryland and Ohio – mandate nursing home satisfaction data that is collected and made publicly available.

“There’s no systematic way in which to assess what the consumers themselves think about the nursing home experience,” Nadash said. “It seems crazy that you’re not getting the resident or family perspective on what that experience is like. If you were considering a nursing home, what would you ideally do? You would go and talk to someone who is there.”

The researchers examined average satisfaction survey results from individual nursing homes in all 50 states collected using NRC Health’s MyInnerView product, a survey tool containing 24 items. NRC Health has data from about 2,500 nursing homes, Nadash said, though not all of it was included in the study.

The researchers matched that resident and family satisfaction information with several forms of nursing home quality data, including Nursing Home Compare’s five-star quality rating system and deficiency in care measures.

Nadash said satisfaction correlated more closely with NHC’s star ratings than it did with deficiency in care information. But the overall results clearly indicated that satisfaction and quality are not the same things in nursing homes.

“Our results are very consistent with the notion that satisfaction is a different construct from quality and it captures something different about the nursing home experience,” said Nadash. “And that different thing is important for people to understand when they’re making a decision about a nursing home.”

The research on nursing home satisfaction and quality has been funded by the Donaghue Foundation. Co-investigators include assistant professor Jennifer Gaudet Hefele, professor Edward Alan Miller and associate professor Kathrin Boerner, all from UMass Boston’s Gerontology Department. Research assistants Adrita Baroom and Joyce Wang also contributed to the project.