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Sutter Gould rated best in California by Consumer Reports

Dora Robles, left, information and volunteer coordinator, assists Sutter Gould patients Carol Gress and Mathilda Owens, right, both of Modesto, on Wednesday in the lobby of the Coffee Road medical building. Sutter Gould is rated as the best physician group in California by Consumer Reports magazine.
Dora Robles, left, information and volunteer coordinator, assists Sutter Gould patients Carol Gress and Mathilda Owens, right, both of Modesto, on Wednesday in the lobby of the Coffee Road medical building. Sutter Gould is rated as the best physician group in California by Consumer Reports magazine. jlee@modbee.com

Sutter Gould Medical Foundation clinics work on creating a good experience for their 250,000 patients in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties.

According to Consumer Reports Magazine, their patients appreciate it.

In a special insert for the February issue, the magazine rated 170 physician groups in California on issues important to patients, such as getting a timely appointment, courteous and respectful office staff, a short wait time and how well their doctors communicate with them.

The state’s top-rated medical group was not found in any affluent city in the Bay Area or Southern California. This time, a national consumer magazine looked to the Central Valley for the best.

Sutter Gould’s score of 77 was the highest in California. The Modesto-based group has topped the Consumer Reports list for two years in a row.

The special edition has a write-up on Sutter Gould titled “How the Top Practice Did It.”

Steven Mitnick, Sutter Gould’s chief medical officer, told the magazine that all staff members, from employees who schedule appointments to nurses and physicians, work on giving patients what they need.

“It is an institutional commitment to putting our patients first,” Mitnick told The Bee this week. “We make sure when patients come to see us they are getting the best care in a very personal way.”

Sutter Gould scored just higher than Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Centers (76) and Scripps Clinic Medical Group (74), two large groups in the San Diego area.

In the Northern San Joaquin Valley, Kaiser Permanente clinics in Modesto and Manteca had a 65 score, followed by Hill Physicians Medical Group of San Joaquin County, 62, and Allcare IPA, 58.

Consumer Reports based the ratings on patient surveys done by the California Healthcare Performance Information System, which surveyed 52,000 adults about their experience with doctors. The comparisons focused on clinics that primarily serve people with private insurance.

The physician groups were rated for communication with patients, timely care and service, coordination of care and how well office staff assisted patients.

Among the survey questions were: Did the doctor listen carefully and spend enough time with the patient? Were test results provided? Were receptionists as courteous and helpful as they should be? And was the patient able to see the doctor within 15 minutes of appointment time?

According to Consumer Reports, more than 80 percent of adults surveyed statewide said their doctors were respectful. But it was clear that physicians need to work harder on coordination of care. Only about half of those surveyed said their physicians knew about the care they received from specialists.

A large majority of patients in California waited more than 15 minutes before seeing their doctor, the magazine reported.

Mitnick said Sutter-Gould works hard to schedule people for visits on the dates they request. All staff members are trained in communication techniques and are expected to interact that way with patients. The medical group puts an emphasis on its own patient surveys and pays attention to the feedback, the medical director said.

“There’s a standard way we approach every encounter, and we make sure the staff has learned that and uses it consistently,” Mitnick said. “All the doctors and nurses constantly work on improving that and, over time, you build a culture that puts patients first. The patients notice it.”

Employees are put through exercises taken from the “lean” quality improvement methods used by many companies. “We knew we were good; best is always an honor,” said DeMaris Young, section supervisor for internal medicine. “With all the process improvement work we are doing, it is paying off.”

Trudy Saman, a patient from Modesto, said it’s easy to schedule appointments at Sutter Gould clinics, and she has been impressed with the care her husband has received. “The doctors we go to are patient-focused,” she said.

The Consumer Reports ratings for physician groups in California can viewed at www.calqualitycare.org under “medical groups.”

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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