Entries in Mystery Shoppers (2)


Program to Use Mystery Shoppers to Probe Doctors Scrapped

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has decided against using "mystery shoppers" to investigate whether primary care physicians are accepting or rejecting new patients depending on the type of insurance they have.

"After reviewing feedback received during the public comment period, we have determined that now is not the time to move forward with this research project," an HHS official said in a statement.

Instead, according to the statement, the government would focus on improving access to primary care in other ways, including an emphasis on training new practitioners and encouraging providers to practice in underserved areas. The Obama administration is also working on a plan to offer better payments to providers.

The original government proposal describing the program said staff from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation would call 4,185 primary care physicians in nine states and pose as prospective new patients, saying they had either private or public insurance. The purpose would be to determine if the doctors' willingness to accept new patients depended on the type of insurance.

ABC News asked a number of primary care physicians and health policy experts for their thoughts on the government's "mystery shopper" initiative. Many of the responses were negative and accused the government of spying and being deceptive.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Admin Under Fire for Proposed 'Mystery Shoppers' to Call Docs 

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- On April 28, 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services posted a notice in the Federal Register seeking public comment on a proposal for “mystery shoppers” to contact doctors’ offices to try to figure out why so many new patients are having problems obtaining a primary care physician.

On Monday afternoon, the American Medical Association official came out against the proposed survey, with AMA Immediate Past-President Cecil B. Wilson, M.D. saying, “We know there is a physician shortage in this country that will only grow worse as more people enter Medicare and coverage is expanded to those currently uninsured. The government should be working to address this shortage so all patients can have access to the health care they need, rather than using mystery shoppers to tell us what we already know.”

Assuming the White House signs off on the proposal, the operation would have more than four thousand mystery shoppers contact 465 physician’s offices in nine selected states “in order to accurately gauge availability of Primary Care Physicians (PCPs) accepting new patients, assess the timeliness of services from PCPs and gain insight into the precise reasons that PCP availability is lacking,” the Federal Register notice said. Each physician would be called by a (fake) prospective patient with private insurance, by one with public insurance, and by someone saying he or she is conducting a study.

“It's important to point out that this is a proposal,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday. “There will be public hearings.  It hasn't happened yet.  We will look at this and decide after comment from all quarters about moving forward.”

Carney also pointed out that previous administrations had conducted similar “mystery shopper” operations, including a 2007-2008 secret shopper survey by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that looked for any problems that existed with insurance companies offering the Medicare prescription drug benefit. In 2004, the Government Accountability Office used secret shoppers to look at Medicare's help line, 800-MEDICARE. The GAO survey indicated that almost 30 percent of the answers given to callers were incorrect.

Plans for this new survey were first reported by Robert Pear of The New York Times, who quoted a number of physicians, who objected to the proposals including Olympia, Wash., family physician Dr. Stephen Albrecht, who said, “If federal officials are worried about access to care, they could help us. They don’t have to spy on us.”

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., who is a physician in addition to chairing the House Republican Policy Committee, also objected to the proposal, saying, “Doctors should be able to spend their time focusing on providing the highest level of quality care to their patients, not wondering when Uncle Sam might be calling to spy on them. This type of outrageous action sows yet another level of distrust between government and the people it serves, and it does nothing to address the underlying issue of access to care.”

Another take -- from Fox Nation -- reads: “Liberals Want to Spy on Doctors but Not Terrorists.”

A White House official, speaking not for attribution, said that there is no intent to collect individual information about any of the physicians.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio