Consumerism in healthcare is here to stay, even if some people in the industry seem to want to shut their eyes and hope it goes away. It wont.
For one thing, rules that call for hospitals to report their patient-satisfaction survey scores force everyone to start thinking about customer service. For another, payers and purchasers are pushing consumers to start shopping for their care based on price and quality. Its hard to predict where that will go, but woe to the provider that doesnt at least take it seriously.
Many of the complaints found on satisfaction surveys arent about the quality of care received, but that is almost beside the point. If the patients experience of care is negative, so will be the level of satisfaction. Also, if people are stressed out by the hospital or medical office experience, it may actually lower the effectiveness of the care.
A relatively recent developmentat least for healthcaremay help providers find out more about their level of customer service. I am talking about mystery shoppers, otherwise known as secret shoppers. These are trained consumers who are hired by companies in the customer interaction field to go into a facility pretending to need a service. Their findings are then compiled into a report. These firms have been used in banking, restaurants and hotels. Now, mystery shoppers are strolling into healthcare facilities around the country.
A recent white paper from the Beryl Institute, a research arm of the Beryl Cos., a firm that provides mystery shopping services, gave me some insight into what they do.
Mystery shoppers are educated, experienced consumers who are trained to write informative narratives that describe emotional responses to varied experiences. These reports flesh out the checkmarks a patient might put on a satisfaction survey with a more detailed explanation of a shortcoming of a particular institution.
Heres an example from a report: After checking in, I waited in the waiting area for 45 minutes before anyone checked back with me. There was only one other patient in the waiting room for 35 of those minutes. This seemed like a very long time to me, especially because I had indicated that I had severe knee pain. I was afraid to go to the restroom, in case a nurse came for me while I was gone. I could see staff laughing and talking in the back area. They didnt look busy at all. And no one let me know anything about the wait time. When the nurse, Ellen, finally came for me, she was very friendly and kept the conversation light until we were in a private area where she could begin taking my information. But by then I was so irritated, I just wanted to get going.
Now you can understand why a simple no response to the question, Did you feel welcomed? doesnt tell the whole story.
It is important to note that not all mystery shopping is done covertly. Frequently management will let employees know the purpose of the mystery-shopping experience and involve them in the process, even soliciting their ideas on the development of the shoppers criteria for evaluation. From this, employees gain a sense of pride and inclusion.
Ideally, mystery shopping will evaluate how consistently employees are fulfilling the organizations mission, vision and values. It is already being used in a wide array of settings, from outpatient services to ambulatory centers, medical practices, urgent care and emergency services.
The better a provider understands its customers needs and wants and how to satisfy them, the better a job it can do in making sure it can provide the most important service of allhigh-quality care.