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Web site compares clinics' performance

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The Allina Medical Clinic in Woodbury is one of hundreds of facilities included in the report from Minnesota Community Measurement, which records and reports how clinics are doing in providing quality health care. (MPR Photo/Bob Collins)
A new survey shows the region's health care clinics are making diagnostic and treatment improvements. The organization Minnesota Community Measurement has been analyzing the data for four years. For the first time, it's presenting its results in the form of side-by-side comparisons that allow clinics and consumers to measure quality.

St. Paul, Minn. — The latest "Health Care Quality Report" scrutinized preventative and chronic care information from more than 50 providers. They operate 700 clinics throughout Minnesota and bordering communities, and treat more than 90 percent of Minnesotans who receive health care.

Jim Chase, executive director of Minnesota Community Measurement, says the 2004 information showed several important improvements over the previous year.

"For example, we've had a significant increase in the number of diabetics who are getting the recommended care," says Chase. "What's exciting is ... in knowing that we have hundreds of fewer people with diabetes who are going to have complications such as strokes, heart attacks and even fewer deaths than we would have had if we weren't making these efforts."

The study tracked progress in numerous other areas of health care, including asthma and high blood pressure management, and in immunization programs.

Minnesota Community Measurement was formed by the state's largest health care insurers, including Medica, Health Partners and Blue and Cross-Blue Shield.

What's new about this year's report is the way Minnesota Community Measurement is presenting its findings. They're now available online, and organized so that providers and their customers can compare one clinic's performance to another.

Chase says not only is there information about how a particular clinic stacks up overall, but also how a provider performs in 10 specific areas of treatment, from immunizations to chronic care for ailments including heart disease and diabetes.

Most of the comparisons are based on established treatment standards developed by the Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement, based in Bloomington. Dr. Gordon Mosser, the institute's president, says there are efforts in three other states to use the standards for comparative quality analysis -- all of which he applauds.

"The first thing it provides is information that patients and families can use as they make their choices about where to go for care," Mosser. "But even more importantly than that is the fact that the medical groups whose performance is being reported by Minnesota Community Measurement take this information quite seriously."

That's exactly what's been going on at Fairview Health Services, which serves hundreds of thousands of patients at clinics scattered throughout the state.

Dr. Barry Bershow is Fairview's medical director of quality. Bershow is also on the board of Minnesota Community Measurement, the group that's compiled the data.

"We did not as good as we had hoped. Better than previous year on most measurements, and not as good as we know we are already doing in 2005," says Bershow.

Bershow says his doctors were hanging on the edge of their chairs waiting for this year's performance data.

He says the quality comparison tool serves as an impetus to do better. He's convinced if patients begin paying attention to the information as much as providers, the health of Minnesotans will improve.

"I hope that's the end result. We're in this whole effort to improve the care of the population in Minnesota," says Bershow. "Unless it's transparent data, unless the patients can understand how their clinic delivers care and what their outcomes are, it's impossible to know where to go, no matter what the price."

And even harder to shop for care with price in mind, Bershow says.

The Web site with the new information is likely to be a busy place. Gov. Tim Palwenty's administration is referring thousands of state employees to the site, www.MNhealthcare.org, because state workers are about to choose their health plans for the next year.

With the statistics, Jim Chase says they'll be able to get an indication whether paying more for a particular provider makes sense.

"Their people have different tiers and pay different amounts based on which providers they choose," says Chase. "This is a tool for them to say, 'Am I getting a better quality for the kind of things that I am looking for for that additional amount, or is it pretty much the same.'"

Don't be surprised if some of the providers who come out looking particularly good compared to the competition use the new data to market themselves. Minnesota Community Measurement is asking that any advertising be cleared with it first, to ensure that misleading claims and conclusions aren't drawn from its data.

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