Federal regulations require nursing homes to have a medical director. According to federal regulations, he is responsible for implementation of resident care policies and coordinating the delivery of medical care in the facility.
In theory, the medical director has a broad scope of responsibilities relating to the delivery of care in the nursing home, and can positively impact care in areas that we frequently encounter such as nursing home falls, bed sores, smoking accidents, and choking accidents in nursing homes. The American Medical Directors Association has a statement which spells out a long list of responsibilities that the medical director is supposed to discharge.
In practice, what the medical director does is far more limited. Medical directors usually operate under an annual contract with the nursing home and are typically paid less than $20,000 per year. It is a very part-time position. During depositions we have taken of nursing home medical directors, they usually describe what they do in practice as being attended quality assurance meetings, serving as a resource for members of the nursing staff, and someone to assist the staff when there are issues with the attending physician of individual physicians.
A medical director who truly carries out the responsibilities of what a medical director should do can help a nursing home truly provide quality care to its residents. However, like so many things in the long-term care industry, it does not live up to its promise.