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How Can My Medical Practice Benefit From a Mystery Shopper?

As the protectors of people’s health and well-being, doctors want their patients to leave the office feeling well-cared for. Those in the medical practice know that “care” may mean something far beyond a blood-test or a prescription. After all, part of a modern interpretation of the Hippocratic Oath reads, “I will remember that there is an art to medicine as well as a science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.”

A patient having his blood pressure taken by a...

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We’ve all been a patient at one time or another, and we know that warmth and understanding comes into play far before we slip into that paper robe. There are plenty of obstacles that can trip us up in the process, like scheduling issues, long wait times, and confusing paperwork. It’s not a secret that the customer service experience we have at the doctor’s office could be fine-tuned, and many health care professionals are being proactive about bettering that process — including your competitors.

What steps are medical practices taking to find out what it’s like to be in the patient’s shoes? Simple: They actually put a patient in those shoes, and then they ask that patient about the experience. However, it can’t be just any patient — medical practices need an objective party who can give an unbiased view. Furthermore, to truly get an authentic and accurate report, staff have to be unaware of the patient, so as not to change their behavior.

One of the easiest ways to meet these objectives is by hiring a mystery shopping company. Although people typically associate mystery shopping with retail stores and restaurants, it’s important to remember that mystery shopping can be beneficial to any business where good customer service is essential to success. When a medical practice hires a mystery company, an unidentified, unannounced individual (called a “mystery shopper” or a “secret shopper”) schedules an appointment and experiences the typical process of being a patient. And aren’t medical practices, in effect, the business of making people feel better?

Your medical practice staff (or administrators) would work with the mystery shopping company to create evaluation tasks, or things you’d like the secret shopper to report on. These tasks could include:

  • Impression of front desk employee (phone skills, ease of appointment scheduling, overall attitude and helpfulness)
  • Effectiveness of check-in procedures
  • Cleanliness of office
  • Efficiency of nurses
  • Bed-side manner of doctors
  • Adequacy of time spent with patient

Obviously, the health of your real patients is of highest priority. That’s why medical mystery shoppers are trained to recognize when a patient comes in with an emergency and to remove themselves from the situation so that person can be seen.

Furthermore, the use of secret shopper patients in the medical industry is backed by the American Medical Association. In June 2008, the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs released a statement that said, “Physicians have an ethical responsibility to engage in activities that contribute to continual improvements in patient care. One method for promoting such quality improvement is through the use of secret shopper ‘patients’ who have been appropriately trained to provide feedback about physician performance in the clinical setting.”

Health care professionals can glean plenty of useful data from a mystery shop report. By analyzing mystery shopping research, an office can start implementing some changes to their approach to customer service. Some hospitals will hire mystery shoppers to act as a patient in a competitor’s office to gain perspective and competitive edge. By getting insight into the patient’s point of view and how employees perform, health care administrators can proactively make the necessary changes to give patients the best medical care possible.

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