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Survey: Austin, Adams clinics at average

A statewide survey released Wednesday showing Minnesota consumers how patients rate their experiences at hundreds of health care clinics reveals Austin’s hospital lands almost exactly at state averages.

Mayo Clinic Health System in Austin fell in line with Minnesota averages in its patient experience, with 60 percent of patients reporting they received care when needed and were seen within 15 minutes of a scheduled appointment; 90 percent reporting their providers communicated well, respected them and spent enough time with them; and 92 percent rating the office staff to be courteous and helpful. Overall, 81 percent of patients gave the Austin hospital a 9 or 10 out of 10 in terms of its quality.

The hospital saw its greatest disparity in the field of treating asthma in children, where it received a 21 percent positive rating compared to the 37 percent state average. It ranked highest above the state average in treatment of depression, as measured by a nine-question Patient Health Questionnaire tool.

The Mayo Clinic in Adams sat about par with Austin in terms of patients getting proper care, but edged higher with provider communication and courteous office staff. Its overall positive rating is 87 percent. Patient experience ratings were not available for the clinic in LeRoy.

More than 230,000 patients were surveyed and 651 clinics were rated in the Minnesota HealthScores survey, a joint project of the Minnesota Department of Health and the nonprofit MN Community Measurement. The results are posted online, and consumers can use them to compare how providers rated.

Officials said it’s the most comprehensive look yet at patient experiences on a statewide basis anywhere in the U.S. And they acknowledged the scrutiny might make some doctors and clinics nervous.

“When somebody’s looking over our shoulder, and kind of grading us, there’s a little bit of anxiety. But the worst is if you’re not going a good job and you don’t know it,” Dr. Ed Ehlinger, the state’s health commissioner, told reporters.

Overall, the survey found, Minnesotans are happy with their care and satisfied with their providers. The survey scored clinics in four categories: access to care, provider-patient communications, whether officer staffers are courteous and helpful, and how many patients rate their provider a nine or 10.

The statewide average score for access to care was 60 percent, meaning 60 percent of patients gave the clinic the most positive rating possible for getting appointments when they needed them. The average was 90 percent for communications and 92 percent for the office staff. Overall, 78 percent of patients gave their clinics a top nine or 10 rating.

Jim Chase, president of MN Community Measurement, said the survey shows where there’s room for improvement. The scores can vary widely for how individual clinics performed in each of the four categories. Chase said this will be the first opportunity for many clinics to see how they stack up against others.

The Minnesota HealthScores site also includes older data from more than 100 clinics on two rounds of pilot testing that looked at care costs and how successful participating clinics, medical groups and hospitals were at caring for various chronic and acute conditions. The new data does not cover pediatric clinics, which will be rated later.

A patient’s ability to get a timely appointment with a provider, and that provider’s ability to communicate with the patient, are both important components of quality care, said Dr. Michael Bozivich, an internist with the HealthEast Downtown St. Paul Clinic, one of the highest rated in the survey. So, he said, this data helps lays the groundwork for better care for all Minnesotans in the future.

“Medicine is under the gun,” Bozivich said. “It’s a new day in medicine.”

The ratings were released seven weeks ahead of open enrollment in Minnesota’s new health insurance exchange, MNsure, an online marketplace that’s part of the Obama administration’s health care overhaul. More than 1.2 million Minnesotans are expected to shop for health plans through MNsure, including 300,000 who don’t currently have insurance.

“This will just be another piece of information that they will be able to use,” Ehlinger said. Consumers will be able to check out the available networks and which providers are in those networks on MNsure’s website, he said, then check the ratings to see if those clinics provide high-quality care.

However, consumers using MNsure after it goes live Oct. 1 won’t be able to directly access this data directly when they compare health plans, he said. They’ll have to take the extra step of looking up a provider’s ratings. Officials hope to eventually link the two systems, he added.

Dr. Dan Maddox, president of the Minnesota Medical Association, called the overall positive results “extremely exciting,” but said there’s always room for improvement.

“Selecting and maintaining a relationship with a physician and clinic is a personal and complex decision. These results offer patients one more piece of information to consider, but — like most metrics —should not be used in isolation,” he said in a statement.

—The Associated Press has contributed to this report.