Health Care Beware: Your Patients May Be Examining You

March 15, 2009 by Nanette BrownComments

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For those of you who are health care professionals, the ebb and flow of patients is just part of a typical workday in health care. Today, however, your "˜patient' is just as likely to be a mystery shopper, sent to evaluate how your office, and you in particular, deliver routine care.

A recent Wall Street Journal article stated, "The health-care industry has never been noted for its customer service. But as competition builds amid efforts to encourage patients to comparison-shop for health care, medical facilities and hospitals are increasingly looking for ways to improve the patient experience. Some are turning to mystery-shopping services -- a mainstay of the retail and hotel industries -- which send employees to pose as customers and later report back on how they were treated."

Why has health care turned to mystery shopping? Certainly, health care professionals are concerned about providing optimum patient care. But there's another important reason: The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began using targeted surveys, the answers to which are public, to assess patient satisfaction at hospitals across the United States on October 1, 2006. Patients can visit to compare various areas of clinical care, revolutionizing the manner in which health care is delivered by allowing potential patients to review and compare satisfaction scores across our nation's hospitals.

And it doesn't stop there. Patient reviews are affecting the pocketbooks of hospital executives.

Mel Hall, president and CEO of Press Ganey Associates Inc., a South Bend, Ind., company specializing in patient-satisfaction assessment, stated, "More than 55% of hospital chief executive officers surveyed last year have "some compensation at risk," based on patient satisfaction, up from only 8% to 10% a dozen years ago."

So how exactly does mystery shopping work in a health care setting?
The staff is informed only of a general range of time when mystery patients might show up. Sometimes patients, who usually pose as uninsured, reveal themselves at the end of a visit, but not always. Mystery shops can be completed by phone, in the doctor's office, in the emergency room or in specialty care facilities, with shoppers hiding tape recorders, pretending to take notes during the exam, or running to the bathroom to jot down notes.
There are two main issues arising from this new form of mystery shopping: the concern that "˜fake' patients will use up resources that could be going to truly sick patients, (shoppers are instructed to arrive at least busy times) and the feeling staff and doctors have that they are being spied on. A good mystery shopping company has the available tools and resources to resolve these issues. And once staff understands the importance of mystery shopping for improving patient services, many typical fears about mystery shopping vanish.

Becky Zuccarelli, Ohio Health System's Vice President of Customer Service, says OhioHealth spent $44,000 on mystery shopping over one year, covering 240 mystery patient visits. The organization has since established in-house mystery shopping and routinely rewards high performing employees with motivational incentives like small cash prizes, gift cards, better parking spaces, and public recognition. The greatest benefit has been a reduction in the employee turnover rate, which dropped from 18% in 2000 to 11.5% in 2006.
Medical mystery shopping is just another example of how the right mystery shopping program and the right data used in the right way can make something as common as a visit to the doctor's office into an excellent customer experience.

Topics: Mystery Shopping

Written by: Nanette Brown

Executive Vice President and General Manager, Nanette continues to instill her passion for excellence across the organization, guiding the measurement, management and improvement of our clients’ customer experience.


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