Secret shoppers evaluate the services provided by stores, restaurants, banks, florists, and all kinds of service providers, including government agencies. But should doctors be immune to check-ups by undercover patients?
Medical mystery shopping is not new, but the American Medical Association (AMA) recently took up the issue at their annual meeting. The AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs recommended that members officially endorse the use of secret shopper “patients” as a way of evaluating and improving patient care. The issue was voted on during the annual meeting earlier this month.
Many doctors object to the practice, saying that “fake” patients can interfere with access to care for those who are truly ill. However, there are doctors who see the benefits of using mystery shoppers to evaluate medical services.
Writing in Virtual Mentor, the AMA’s online ethics journal, Dr. James Loden wrote,
“Employees, including doctors, are paid to do specific tasks; if they choose to perform at a level that is less than acceptable, they need to improve or find other jobs.”
That seems to me to be what mystery shopping is about. We determine if employees are performing up to standard. And we are not using our standards, but those established by the service providers themselves.
Medical mystery shopping is typically focused on customer-service issues surrounding medical care. In my opinion, doctors need to be concerned with the quality of the customer experience. They are in business, and unhappy customers have other options. I have dropped doctors because they made me wait more than an hour past my appointment time, they did not ask questions or really listen to what I told them, and even because their office staff was rude.
Until the day comes when we are assigned to a doctor by our government handlers, I will continue to exercise my rights as a medical consumer not to deal with a doctor who does not respect me. Doctors need to remember that they are in the medical business and customer service matters. Measuring and improving customer service in meaningful ways will help them to have better relationships with their patients–and that improves the practice of medicine.
So did the doctors decide to endorse the use of secret shoppers? The delegates chose to refer the matter for additional study, neither endorsing or rejecting the recommendation of the ethics council.
Next time you have to wait two hours to spend six minutes with your physician, why not ask, “Hey, Doc, how do you feel about doctors being mystery shopped?”