Clinics are looking to see whether they measure up, officials say. (Thinkstock image)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A statewide survey report released Wednesday gives Minnesota consumers a new tool for shopping for health care.

The report shows how patients rate the quality of their experiences at hundreds of clinics.

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 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,”  Dr. Ed Ehlinger, the state’s health commissioner, told reporters. “But the worst is if you’re not going a good job and you don’t know it.”

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.

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.

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