Negative Stories Dominate Nursing Home Coverage, Affect Consumer Behavior

Negative stories dominate media coverage of nursing homes, and the industry needs to find ways to combat their adverse effects to public perception, according to a study published in the December issue of Medical Care.

“Our findings suggest that negative reporting predominates and its impact on public perceptions and government decision making may be reinforced by its prominence and focus on industry interests/behavior,” said researchers Edward Alan Miller, PhD, MPA of University of Massachusetts Boston and Denise A. Tyler, PhD, of Brown University. 

After searching a database to find more than 1,500 articles related to nursing homes published in four major American newspapers between 1999 and 2008, the researchers categorized the tone of each story as positive, negative, and neutral. 

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Negative articles dominated the mix, at nearly half (49.2%), while only 10.5% were classified as positive, Miller and Tyler found. The remaining 40.3% were categorized as neutral in tone.

When examining characteristics of positive, negative, and neutral articles, the researchers found some prominent differences in content and focus. Positive articles were more likely to discuss the quality of nursing home care. Negative articles often center around cases involving negligence or fraud.

“Negative articles were more likely to focus on the nursing home industry; positive articles on the broader community and residents/families,” Drs. Miller and Tyler wrote. Many of the neutral articles covered financing and business or property issues.

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Unfortunately for the industry, negative articles about negligence or fraud in nursing homes were more likely to make front-page news compared to positive or neutral articles.

“Editorial decisions about the placement of such articles make sense from a business perspective to the extent that negative, sensationalistic coverage sells newspapers,” the study authors said. 

Ultimately, garnering large amounts of negative publicity has had a significant impact on how the public perceives nursing homes and the industry in general, according to Miller and Tyler. 

The less-than-favorable coverage has probably influenced consumer behavior, they say, and the impact is probably deeper because of increasing competition from alternative care options such as assisted living and home- and community-based care. 

That’s why the skilled nursing industry may want to consider developing “more effective media strategies,” Miller and Tyler say, to highlight the culture change movement and other innovations being implemented to improve the care and quality of life for nursing home residents.

Access the study.

Written by Alyssa Gerace