How Do You Measure Emotion?

It can be tough to measure emotion. We send out patient surveys and comb the data for clues as to what we can do to improve our care, but at the end of the day, it’s not just the logistics of service at play. It’s the emotions that our services evoke that really matter.

The patient rated everything a five, so why did they say they would not recommend the facility? At first glance, you may think it’s a mistake, but it’s not.

I was reviewing the results of a medical mystery shop with hospital leaders once. The shopper gave the facility top scores on every question, but at the end, when it asked if she would recommend the facility to friends and family, she checked no. The leaders were sure this was a mistake and were about to write it off. When we dove into the details, though, her answer was obviously correct. She detailed that she was in the ER for care. She had great personal interactions from registration right through to the clinical encounter. While she was there, though, she witnessed a staff member shout at the family member of a confused, elderly patient using profanity. That was the deal-breaker. Even though her own experience had been all fives, she couldn’t get past what she witnessed.

Emotional response plays a major role in trust, perceptions, consumer preference, and loyalty.

Surveys measure how many rated you a certain way to a specific question and assume we’re asking the right questions.

Quantitative Questions

Quantitative research measures facts. “How easily did you get an appointment?” or “How long did you wait to be called?” These are great questions to ask. They provide necessary information about the efficiency and level of care you’re providing and if it matches set expectations. But quantitative questions will not give insight into emotions. They don’t tell you why a patient rated you this way delving into the emotion generated by specific experiences at specific moments in time.

Qualitative Questions

Qualitative research dives deeper into the sentiments and is anchored in direct observation. Observational research, including mystery shopping, dives into what’s behind the score and provides more actionable insight. It provides context behind the numbers from quantitative research.

Mystery Shopping for Measuring Emotion

Mystery shopping is a great way to get qualitative data. Shoppers are trained on what to look for and how to evaluate an organization. Mystery shoppers give facts and feelings that can help you zero in on opportunities to improve. They can tell you where you’re gaining trust and where you’re losing it. When it comes to trust, the little things that may not show up on surveys matter.

Here are a couple of mystery shopper comments from site visits:

  • Garbage was overflowing in the waiting room. “If they don’t empty the trash, how well are they sanitizing the exam rooms?” Overflowing trash is an overt sign of an unkempt facility that may lead people to fear exposure to infection.
  • An empty registration desk is the first thing I saw. If no one is there to greet a patient, what will the rest of the care be like? People may worry that there’s a shortage of staff and care will be lacking.
  • Staff discussing a patient in the elevator. “I heard two staff members talking about a patient in the elevator. It made me wonder if my sensitive health information will be kept private.”
  • Used needle left on the counter in the exam room along with empty gauze wrappers. Yuck! While a survey, asking specifically about the exam, may get all fives, that needle leaves a big impression!

What you don’t know can, and does, hurt you. Patient experience surveys are essential but don’t tell the whole story. To gain a greater understanding of the patient experience, dig deeper with mystery shopping. Contact us today to learn more at (866) 686-7672 or

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