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Mystery shoppin' undercover patients

December 22nd, 2005

Is that a patient in room 2 or is she an undercover mystery shopper? This past year, the California Healthcare Foundation hired 622 people to pose as poor uninsured patients to determine hospitals' progress in disclosing costs and access to financial assistance. The results were not so good: "Only 7.3 percent of the fictitious patients who visited a hospital in person were offered information about financial assistance policies or charity care eligibility."

Mystery shoppers in hospitals are not a new phenomenon. One firm, Mystery-shoppers, cited a 1999 example of a hospital director of surgical services who wanted to know more about how her patients perceived the care they were receiving. For $50-100/individual "patient" visit, the information was invaluable. Devon Hill Associates, offering their "secret patient services," were cited in the New York Times way back in 1997. They were also recently featured in the Pittsburgh Gazette:

"Surveys or other tools that measure patient satisfaction may give hospital administrators an idea of problem areas. But mystery shopping can further pinpoint the cause" - Barbara Gerber, President of Devon Hill Associates

Gerber is cited here in 1998. In one particular case, she charged a hospital roughly $6,000 for her services. According to a Healthleaders article, another firm, Perception Strategies, has done roughly 25,000 "shops" for hospitals and physicians' offices. Prices start at $2,500, and can go up to $100,000 (which can include greater #s of visits, quarterly testing & year-end executive summary). Many of the hospitals did make concrete changes: hiring of bilingual staff at the front desk, writing thank you notes to patients, better sales support, better lighting in hallways, etc.

mysteryshopper

Mystery shopping as a whole is a growing $600MM industry. It's only a matter of time that hospitals, more conscious of care perceptions, would join the fray.

We can plan and think. We can conduct focus groups. But sometimes, there's nothing like sending out some trained spies to experience our services first-hand. Does your hospital employ mystery shoppers?

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