A Closer Look at Medical Mystery Shopping

Posted by Kristin Baird

On Tuesday of this week, The New York Times ran an article about medical mystery shopping which was a great way to get more healthcare leaders to consider this type of research to improve the patient experience. While that part is great, there are some major differences in the methodology cited in the article, and that used by Baird Group.  This is not to criticize anyone else’s method, but rather, spotlight the unique challenges inherent in mystery shopping in healthcare. The following is a list of specific elements of Baird Group Methodology:

  1. Baird Group only works in healthcare, therefore we are well versed in the clinical and legal issues inherent in this type of work and strive to mitigate risk. 
  2. Baird Group doesn’t use doctors, nurses or social scientists as mystery shoppers because they “know too much,” and can bring a bias or over sympathize with staff. We specifically seek the vantage point of the average consumer within the market. We want to know how various interactions make them feel – which actions build patient trust, and which ones can erode it. Both the facts and their feelings are collected and evaluated.
  3. Baird Group shoppers use their real names and other identifying information. This is done to preserve the doctor/patient relationship in the event there are clinical issues identified and in need of follow up.
  4. To mitigate risk, mystery shoppers in need of specific medical services are recruited whenever possible. One example of this is when mystery shopping radiology -shoppers in need of mammograms are recruited rather than exposing other people to unnecessary radiation.
  5. Transparency preserves employee trust. We highly encourage healthcare leaders to let staff know they will be conducting mystery shopping. Position it as just another method of quality assurance, and of course, don’t use it as a “gotcha” threat.

Mystery shopping is an invaluable research method for drilling down into the patient experience and understanding the “why” beneath patient satisfaction surveys. It helps identify service stars and opportunities for improvement. When used ethically and safely, it can advance a culture of quality, safety and service. Needless to say that after overseeing tens of thousands of healthcare shops – I’m a fan.

  1. Prove It!
  2. Quality Assurance for Patient Experience
  3. Medical Practices Aren’t Small Hospitals – They Have Unique Patient Experience Challenges
  4. Don’t Assume – Validate
  5. Tweets = Rankings

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