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Immunization rates vary widely in Minnesota, report says

Minnesota health providers generally are improving in preventing disease through screenings and immunizations, according to a report released on Thursday. But some are doing better than others.

"It really is the providers' role to educate and find ways of outreach to people who might be less likely to get these services," said Julie Sonier, president of the nonprofit MN Community Measurement, which has been collecting and publishing data on preventive health since 2005.

The report noted "statistically significant increases" in statewide rates of childhood and adolescent immunizations over the past year. The childhood immunization rate now is 60 percent, which is a 6 percent improvement from 2017 to 2018. The adolescent immunization rate is only 26 percent, but that's 11 percentage points better than the previous year, according to the report.

But childhood and adolescent immunizations comprise an area where there are particularly stark differences from one clinic to another.

Rates of childhood immunization range from 3 percent at Lake Region Healthcare in Fergus Falls to 85 percent at Minnetonka-based South Lake Pediatrics. Closer to home, rates were 41 percent at St. Luke's clinics, 45 percent at Grand Itasca Clinic and 56 percent at Essentia Health clinics.

Grand Itasca ranked at the bottom for adolescent screenings, with 10 percent, whereas the Mayo Clinic was at the top with 64 percent. St. Luke's was at just under 20 percent and Essentia at 34 percent.

Both measures are difficult to achieve, said Dr. Joe Bianco, a family practice physician at Essentia. The childhood measure is a "combo" of 10 different immunizations, and all 10 must be given to count. "Parents might have heard something about one particular immunization," Bianco said. "Or it's the flu season, and they say I need to catch up on two of them, but I want to prioritize one of them, like the influenza."

The adolescent measure is a combo of only two immunizations, Bianco said. "The thing about adolescents is it's just hard to get these patients to come in."

One vaccination, added to the measure this year, is for HPV. It's recommended that adolescents be immunized for HPV — which is spread through sexual contact — by age 13. But some parents are resistant, Bianco said.

"HPV is the only immunization that can actually prevent cancer," Bianco said. "It's amazing. But there's a lot of hesitancy by parents to initiate that vaccination at such early ages because they feel their children are far away from sexually active. But we do know the earlier that we give that immunization the better that immunization is for the child."

The report singles out eight medical groups that achieved above average results in at least half of the measures. Neither St. Luke's nor Essentia made the list. But Bianco noted that Essentia placed among the elite in two MN Community Measurement reports released in 2018, one on depression care and one on care for chronic conditions.

Also, in the preventive care report, the Essentia Health-Duluth Clinic was listed among the 17 top performers for colorectal cancer screening, said Dan Collins, Essentia vice president for quality.

St. Luke's officials couldn't be reached in time for this story.

Knowing how health providers are doing when it comes to preventive care matters, Sonier said.

"We know from a consumer perspective when people are getting the kinds of preventive services that they should be getting that health is better as a result," she said.

Essentia is determined to provide that, Bianco said.

"This stuff is population health type of work," he said. "And we're working on trying to develop out-of-the-box types of thinking in order to be successful with this."

Online

Find the 2018 Preventive Health Measures report and other reports from MN Community Measurement at mncm.org.