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"The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through." -- Sydney J. Harris

Area clinics score high on patient satisfaction survey

By Jessica Bies jbies@mankatofreepress.com | Posted 7 days ago

MANKATO — With only a few exceptions, area clinics scored high on a statewide survey about the quality of patients’ experiences during appointments and interactions with staff.

Most notably, Daniels Health Center in St. Peter, a branch of Mankato Clinic, scored among the top 15 clinics in the state for having courteous and helpful office staff.

The high ranking is not a happy accident but instead the result of a concentrated effort on part of the clinic, CEO Randy Farrow said.

“We have been putting a big focus on our staff, and customer service has been a big area of focus for us,” he said Wednesday. “We do a lot of staff training around that.”

Patient opinion unchanged

This is the second time the Minnesota Department of Health and MN Community Measurement has conducted the Patient of Experience of Care Survey. It is the nation’s largest statewide patient experience survey, and 2015’s responses show that consumer opinion hasn’t changed much since 2013.

“The survey indicates that patients are generally pleased with the care they receive but would like more convenience and timely access,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Ed Ehlinger said in a statement.

Results show nearly 80 percent of Minnesota’s patients gave their health care providers a top rating of 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale, while only about 60 percent of patients said they experienced top-level access to care.

The same trend is seen repeated locally, where scores were lowest overall when it came to “getting care when needed.” Only one area clinic — the Retina Center in Mankato — scored above the state average.

Daniels, though it scored well in terms of customer service, scored below average when it came to the second metric, with only 48 percent of patients giving the clinic the most positive rating possible when asked how easily they could access care.

Farrow, noting that the survey results are now nearly a year old, said Mankato Clinic has since implemented strategies for improving access. Among them are extended hours at Daniel’s Clinic — evening appointments are now available on Wednesdays, providing more flexibility to working parents or those too busy to visit the clinic during the day.

The idea came out of the clinic’s patient advisory council, which provides a forum for patients to voice concerns and give suggestions to clinic staff.

Communication key

The survey measured patients’ experiences in four categories:

  • Getting care when needed.
  • Being listened to and receiving understandable information and instructions.
  • Experiencing courteous and helpful office staff.
  • Overall satisfaction with health care providers (on a scale of 1 to 10).

Other areas where clinics scored below average were communication and courteousness of staff.

Mankato Clinic on Main Street, unlike Daniels, was below average when it came to customer service with only 72 percent of patients satisfied with their interactions with office workers.

The Retina Center and Mankato’s Orthopaedic and Fracture Clinic both got dinged for communication between providers and patients, scoring below average and among the lowest in the community.

Andrew Meyers, CEO of OFC, said he will take the results back to his physicians, who meet as a full board six times a year. They will work on better ways to talk to patients, which can be difficult when you’re doing specialist work.

“It’s not as easy as it sounds sometimes, especially with a specialty,” he said. “People are familiar with sore throats and that type of thing but maybe not so with a herniated disk.”

New modes of communication

Mayo Clinic Health System in Le Sueur scored poorly in terms of access for care — though it was average (for a health system), it had the lowest score out of the hospitals The Free Press analyzed, with only 47 percent of patients giving it the highest rating possible.

Stephen Campbell, chief medical quality officer for Mayo Clinic Health System’s southwest Minnesota region, said in some rural areas, providing top-level access to care can be more difficult, mostly because they have smaller staffs.

“We do have sites where we know we’re deficient in providers,” he said. “So obviously, it’s a little bit harder to get appointments in those areas.”

But the survey focused almost exclusively on “brick and mortar” medical care, he pointed out. Patients were asked to respond only after attending an appointment at the clinics.

Today, medical care goes beyond face-to-face interactions with doctors or nurses. Mayo Clinic Health System has an online “patient portal” system that allows patients in some instances even request appointments and schedule exams.

Using Mayo’s nurse line, patients can talk to a nurse, who in some instances can even prescribe medication.

“It’s a way of accessing health care advice without actually going to the doctor’s office,” Campbell said.

(Other Mayo Clinic Health System locations scored well on the survey. Mayo Clinic Health System Mankato – Northridge scored above average when it came to both communication and customer service, while the Eastridge clinic scored above average when it came to customer service.)

Comparing providers

Mankato Clinic also has an online patient portal, similar to the one used by Mayo Clinic Health Systems. Though it has offered it for several years, only about 50 percent of patients utilize the online resource.

The clinic is working on upping that number. It has also begun picking up office phones at 7 a.m. instead of 8 a.m., so patients can call and schedule appointments before they go to work.

Farrow said the clinic uses survey results like the ones released Wednesday to continue improving patient experiences, which when positive, can lead to better patient outcomes.

He thinks survey results such as the ones compiled by MN Community Measurement and posted online at www.mnhealthscores.org represent a positive shift in health care. Not only does it put more information in the hands of consumers, but it creates a more transparent medical system and pushes clinics to constantly do better.

Campbell echoed him. Younger generations are constantly turning to the Internet and online reviews before selecting service providers, he said. The trend creates a new culture perhaps Farrow described best.

“It keeps all of us on our toes,” he said. “We know there’s options and if we’re not performing, if we’re not providing exceptional care, we know (patients) have other options.”