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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

St. Cloud Medical Group ranks high at keeping costs low

Kevin Allenspach, kallenspach@stcloudtimes.com 6:44 p.m. CDT September 19, 2015

To combat the ever-rising costs of health care, some providers are concentrating on innovations like e-visits, patient portal accounts and accountable care organizations.

St. Cloud Medical Group has been among the most successful in Minnesota at keeping expenses down, according to the second report in as many years issued by a nonprofit industry watchdog.

The total cost of care per patient, per month at St. Cloud Medical Group was $385 — eighth-lowest in the state among 132 medical groups — in results compiled by MN Community Measurement from actual patient costs last year.

That was 14 percent below the state average of $449, which increased 3.2 percent from the inaugural survey released in 2014.

The total cost of care is defined as all costs associated with treating commercially insured patients. The amount represents costs paid by both patients and health insurance companies.

“We are trying to get our patients the right services at the right times,” said Diana White, administrator for St. Cloud Medical Group. The organization has the largest share of the primary care market in the immediate area, she said. “The more patients come in to see their primary care provider, the better chance we have of keeping things under control. Then it doesn’t get to an illness burden where they have to make that trip to an emergency room.”

White said more early morning, lunchtime, and evening appointments help accomplish that goal. St. Cloud Medical Group has 62 providers across four locations and accommodated 162,000 patient visits last year.

“We try to be respectful of resources by not duplicating tests if we can get results from a previous facility or can send our results or x-rays with the patients when they need to see a specialist,” White said. “We’re very attentive to quality and want the patients to feel like they’re getting what they need when they need it and we’re not adding a lot of services unless they’re necessary. I think the doctors are always asking themselves ‘Will this change the plan I have for the patient if I get this one more test?’ ”

The total cost of care at St. Cloud Medical Group rose about 4 percent last year. St. Cloud State University Student Health Services, at $381, was the only other medical group in Central Minnesota that ranked less expensive — and the cost of services there increased more than 24 percent from the 2014 report.

Data show the total cost of care per patient, per month at CentraCare Health — Central Minnesota’s largest provider — was $463. That’s about 3 percent above the state average. CentraCare Family Health Center had a $513 monthly total cost of care — 14 percent above the state average.

Kathy Parsons, system director of revenue cycle at CentraCare, said the Family Health Center — which serves uninsured and under-insured people — likely had just enough visits from the major health insurers to be included in the report. The fact that CentraCare held its cost increase to about 2 percent from the previous year’s data showed the organization is moving in the right direction.

“We looked at the 2013 data and saw high utilization of our emergency room and, consequently, we opened our Urgency Center at the (CentraCare Health) Plaza and started an e-clinic online in 2014,” Parsons said. “This is exciting information to have because it represents one of the biggest changes in health care, and I’ve worked in the field for 28 years. Now we’re able to look at managing costs as a whole, not just parts of it.”

As an example, CentraCare started using an iPad application to help track information on patients at risk of heart failure and found re-admissions fell 15 percent.

Parsons stressed the total cost of care figures don’t represent out-of-pocket costs for patients. They reflect what an insurer pays, on average, per patient every month. Healthy individuals incur much lower costs and chronically ill people represent larger bills.

The average price of the most common tests, procedures and services provided in clinics jumped by 6 percent annually since MNCM last released a compilation in 2013. Office visit costs jumped 7.7 percent annually, while all other high-volume tests and procedures increased by 2.5 percent. Cost for a 15-minute office visit for an established patient was $117 and a standard blood test was $13 at St. Cloud Medical Group, according to the data. At CentraCare, those costs were $153 and $16, respectively.

The information, along with the cost of 85 common medical procedures, can be searched and compared at www.MNhealthscores.org. Results include 132 medical groups and were based on claims of more than 1.5 million patients with the four largest health plans: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, HealthPartners, Medica and Preferred One.

Jim Chase, president of MNCM, said it’s the most in-depth, comprehensive assessment of the cost of medical care in the country.

Follow Kevin Allenspach on Twitter @KevinAllenspach. Call him at 320-255-8745.

Total Cost of Care

Below are the St. Cloud area results of the second annual Total Cost of Care report produced by MN Community Measurement. The figures represent the full cost paid by patients and health insurance companies, according to information from the state’s four largest health plans:

 St cloud data
Cost of care

To view the survey results on your mobile device, visit http://on.sctimes.com/1QMl6uK