Medical Mystery Shopping Myth Busters

Posted by Kristin Baird

Myth 1: Mystery shopping is used as a “gotcha!” tactic to punish staff. 

Conducted appropriately, mystery shopping is a valuable method for improving quality, including identifying weaknesses and strengths and, ultimately, pointing out your organization’s star performers and best practices. Mystery shopping should never be used as a trap or a means to point fingers.

Myth 2: Patients use fake names and could compromise medical care

Baird mystery shoppers always use their real names and contact information with the understanding that if the provider were to make a diagnosis that warrants further action, they would always be able to reach the patient. In fact, we have many stories where mystery shoppers formed lasting provider relationships as a result of a positive mystery shopping experience. 

Myth 3: Anyone can be a mystery shopper.

Effective mystery shoppers learn to gather information in an objective manner while tuning into their emotional responses. Baird’s mystery shoppers go through Baird Group Certification before they ever perform a phone call or on-site visit. Shoppers are recruited from within the client hospital region to ensure they have a solid understanding of the market and speak with a local dialect. Mystery shoppers conducting the inpatient CPO (ethnography) studies have higher level certification. Because of their unique skill set, they may be from outside your market. 

Myth 4: Mystery shopping puts us at risk for HIPAA violation.

Since the mystery shopper IS the patient, he or she will be sharing his own information. Should the mystery shopper see or hear other private information, it would be no different than any other patient hearing or seeing something that should have been kept private. Any such observation will be shared with your organization so that you can correct any issues. 

Myth 5: Mystery patients take up time that could be better spent on “real” patients.

Our mystery shoppers never present themselves with life- or limb-threatening emergent conditions that would elevate their priority over your real patients. Studies are designed with your patients’ needs in mind. Our goal is to evaluate your current patient experience environment to help plan for the experiences of future patients who have yet to walk through your doors or make an appointment. In some cases, patients with specific medical needs serve as shoppers and benefit from the services. 

Myth 6: Mystery shopping patients will overwhelm our staff.

We work with you to schedule projects so that encounters are spread over a desired period of time, based on your needs, to avoid any undue burden on your staff. 

Myth 7: We do patient satisfaction surveys so mystery shopping is not necessary.

Patient satisfaction survey results can only reveal so much. Surveys give you quantitative data that can’t always be decoded to reveal the detailed examples that provide rich, actionable, input. By combining mystery shopping with patient satisfaction surveys, we help you move beyond the “what” (the scores) into the “why” (the emotional response behind the scores).

Myth 8: I can get the same results by just doing the mystery shopping myself.

Of course you and your staff can conduct mystery shopping; however, the results may very likely be biased. Without knowing it, many healthcare workers will sympathize with the employee’s situation and not stay focused as the patient. Because they understand the inner workings of a healthcare setting, they accept certain practices and behaviors as normal. Overall they lack objectivity. Using objective, outside observers can help you gain the advantage of unbiased callers or visitors who are not emotionally connected to your healthcare organization. Using a qualified outside vendor will also provide you with a thorough summary of the entire project, detailed reports to support managers and staff, and online access to each and every mystery shopping experience. 

Myth 9: Doctors will object to being judged by non-clinical observers

Mystery shoppers are trained to observe from the patient’s vantage point. They are trained NOT to judge clinical decisions. Rather they focus on things like the doctor’s ability to engage with them, show empathy and respect. They are able to shed light on physician communication and how clearly the doctors and nurses explained things in terms they could understand.

  1. A Closer Look at Medical Mystery Shopping
  2. Mystery Shopping is Nothing to Fear
  3. Don’t be afraid of mystery shopping….
  4. Don’t Assume – Validate
  5. You don’t have to be a mind reader to improve the patient experience
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