According to the article, "the secret shopper concept is not being proposed to evaluate clinical skills but the way medical professionals manage relationships with patients, from the process of making appointments to such things as explaining billing practices." Of course, this shouldn't interfere with real patients and take up valuable resources. I'm sure there is a way to address this.
Mystery shopping is a tool used by market research companies to measure quality of retail service or gather specific information about products and services. Mystery shoppers posing as normal customers perform specific tasks -- such as purchasing a product, asking questions, registering complaints or behaving in a certain way -- and then provide detailed reports or feedback about their experiences.
I do understand the slippery slope that this can create (this could be linked with those controversial physician ratings that have gained recent press). However, it is disturbing that a tactic designed to create a better patient experience is so opposed. We've all been there: dealing with a rude receptionist, not having a procedure fully explained, not knowing if insurance will cover it or not, inconvenient hours, not getting a follow-up phone call when promised, unknown lab results (even if they are normal) and this list can go on and on.
Interestingly enough, the University of Vermont's medical school is among schools utilizing a "Mania Day." "One part drama, two parts science as doctors-in-training test their diagnostic skills and bedside manner by assessing the ailments of patients played by real people..." This teaching and evaluation tool has been around since the 1960's and continues to gain in popularity and use. In fact, my NP education included performing pelvic and rectal exams on real live models (aka people willing to experience these extremely uncomfortable procedures in the name of education and training - I don't think I realized how much I appreciated with they did until now! A big thanks to them!). This was an invaluable exercise that helped me to prepare for the real thing. Fans of Seinfeld will remember the episode (The Burning) where Kramer & Mickey act out patient scenarios to medical students:
Our eyes met across the crowded hat store. I, a customer, and she a coquettish haberdasher. Oh, I pursued and she withdrew, then she pursued and I withdrew, and so we danced. I burned for her, much like the burning during urination that I would experience soon afterwards.
That, of course would be gonorrhea.
Ultimately, I believe this will all make for better patient encounters and possibly outcomes. I would ask those resisting this to just pick up the phone, try making an appointment for a routine illness and tell them that you are a new patient without health insurance. Let me know how far you get.