Mystery shoppers are deceptive, unethical in a health care setting

LETTER — Posted Feb. 27, 2006

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Regarding "Quality evaluations enhanced by patient feedback" (Article, Jan. 16): I am outraged at your recent article regarding the practice of health care mystery shopping. There is no moral or ethical precedent to justify use of bogus and incognito patients for medical market research, or hospital internal quality assurance.

This practice is a most egregious and intentional violation of the physician-patient relationship. The endpoint of data collection for the possibility of quality improvement does not justify the means in this scenario.

Well-intentioned and caring physicians and allied health professionals are being played as fools by these tactics, and precious financial and time resources are wasted on fake patients.

Hospital administrators (or physicians, for that matter) who unleash these "mystery shoppers" on their own hospitals and health care providers should be reprimanded and subject to disciplinary action according to ethical code of conduct regulations for each hospital.

The American Medical Association should condemn this practice.

Whether or not validated outcomes measures exist for this method of research, its very nature is one of intentional deception and is therefore un-ethical. It does do harm to physicians and health care providers, and it does waste valuable resources.

Do we not already have enough "big brother" dictating the way in which we provide care? When hospitals hire out these "mystery shoppers" they are not only big brother, they are cannibalizing their own doctors and violating their trust.

David M. Burt, MD, Morris, Ill.

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2006/02/27/edlt0227.htm.

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