Get Published | Subscribe | About | Write for Our Blog    

Posted on August 18, 2008 at 2:30 PM

What do your local McDonald’s, Macy’s and hospital have in common? While you are in line to get your Big Mac, Crocs or to get healthcare, you could be waiting behind a “secret shopper”. As reported in Nebraska’s La Vista Sun, a number of Midwestern hospitals, as well as others around the country, are turning to the customer service research methods of the retail industry to know how to serve patients better. These “secret shoppers” pose as patients gathering data about how patients are treated, how long they wait, what waiting rooms are like, and more. All in the service of improving customer service. Something seems strange about this…

waiting room.jpg

Sure, I’m in favor of making hospitals more hospitable, making them less scary places to visit, more welcoming, more comfortable. However, all this effort put into improving the more superficial side of healthcare, as hospital administrators clearly state, to respond to the growing consumerism among patients who have high expectations for what a hospital should be like.

As for me, the time and money spent on advertising firms, staff or volunteers posing as real patients, and evaluating this data isn’t nearly as important as actually improving healthcare itself. Why not spend more time on QI in terms of outcomes, physician-patient interactions, or the way patients perceive the care they receive, rather than the new water cooler or flat screen TV that made the wait more bearable?

These “secret shoppers” really aren’t shopping at all. They are getting in the queue ahead of real patients, and as an AMA report issued this past June stated, in some settings such as emergency rooms, this delay can cause real harm to real patients. Moreover, the use of such techniques, implicitly or explicitly, accepts as a given the rampant consumerism in healthcare, reducing patients to “shoppers” who choose their hospital in the same way they choose to go to McDonald’s over Wendy’s or Burger King.

I hope other hospitals think twice before installing “secret shoppers” in their halls. Try patient surveys, telephone interviews, or anything but sticking volunteers to fill up already-too-busy emergency departments and getting in line of the real people who need care. Let the real patients, the real consumers of healthcare, stand up and speak for themselves.

Summer Johnson, PhD

Comments are closed.