06/10/2015 01:10 EDT | Updated 06/10/2016 05:59 EDT

Nursing home choice could be made easier by searchable online database

TORONTO - Choosing a high quality nursing home for a loved one may now be a bit easier for people in some parts of Canada.

A searchable database that provides information on hospitals across the country has been expanded to include comparative data on about 1,000 nursing homes.

The database is run by the Canadian Institute for Health Information and is located at

It currently contains data on about 57 per cent of the long-term care homes in Canada, says Brent Diverty, CIHI's vice president for programs.

These are facilities with round-the-clock nursing care. The database does not include information on assisted living homes.

Diverty says the data are drawn from assessment forms these homes complete on each of their residents once every three months.

They record information like whether the resident had fallen within the previous 30 days, or had been given anti-psychotic drugs even though he or she didn't have a diagnosis of or symptoms of psychosis (the drugs are sometimes used by nursing homes to control difficult behaviour in residents, a practice that is frowned upon).

They also note whether the individual has worsening pressure ulcers — which could indicate how good the home is at treating bedsores. They record whether residents are kept in restraints daily, whether they have improving or declining physical function, and whether they are experiencing long-term pain.

The database is set up to allow users to compare various long-term care homes based on these measures — so if one is doing a better job of pain management than others, it should be apparent. Likewise, it would be apparent if a home physically restrains patients daily more often than others.

Diverty says all facilities in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and the Yukon are in the database. Some facilities in Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan are covered, as are a handful from Nova Scotia.

That province and neighbouring New Brunswick are expected to have full coverage over time and other jurisdictions with partial coverage are expected to expand the numbers of homes they report on, Diverty says.

Quebec and Prince Edward Island homes do not gather data on residents using the same patient evaluation form as other provinces, so their facilities are not listed. Likewise there are no data from the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Nationally the data suggest there are a few positive trends in nursing-home care. There was a small drop in the percentage of residents who received anti-psychotic drugs without a diagnosis of psychosis. It fell to 30 per cent in 2013 from 34 per cent in 2010.

As well, the use of daily physical restraint of residents was down. It was 10 per cent of residents in 2013, down from 15 per cent in 2010. And the percentage of residents of long-term care homes in Ontario and Alberta who had long-term pain dropped during that period too.

Other measures remained stable, Diverty says.

Using the database may take some practice. The measurements that assess long-term care homes are mixed in with those that evaluate hospitals, so "it does take a little bit to get oriented," Diverty admits.

He suggests people who want to compare nursing homes in their area should start by watching a video on how to use the database. It can be found in the help menu on top of every page.