Devon Hill Associates provides healthcare mystery shopping services

Today’s patients are armed and potentially dangerous – but not with handguns or grenades. Their weapon is the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Health Providers and Systems, or HCAHPS. And how patients respond to this standardized national survey could be risky to your facility’s bottom line.

When asked to participate in the HCAHPS survey, many patients are telling it like it is – or at least the way they perceive it to be. But perception is a problem with this tool that promises a more consistent and comparable way to measure patient satisfaction. That’s because perception is subjective, and even though participants can respond with only one of four answers — either “always,” “sometimes,” “usually” or “never” — their responses can still be skewed by their perception of how they and their care were handled.

What’s a hospital to do?

For starters, consider hiring medical mystery shoppers. Mystery shoppers operate in health care environments the same way they do in restaurants and retail shops. They look, dress and act like the typical customer, or in this case, the typical patient. In fact, my firm’s mystery shoppers actually become real patients; they’re just not sick. They go through exams, tests and procedures. They even get admitted to inpatient units and behave like patients—ringing bells, ordering meals, awaiting treatments, and interacting with doctors, nurses and staff.

While undercover, mystery shoppers do nothing to draw attention to themselves. They don’t visibly take notes. They don’t make demands just to see how the staff will respond. Instead, they quietly observe everything that happens and how it happens. When their stays are over, they are discharged and no one knows that a mystery shopper has been there.

Real time insights and unmatched feedback

Immediately after discharge, the mystery shoppers report their experiences. Unlike a patient’s one-word response to HCAHPS (or patient satisfaction survey) questions, our mystery shopper reports specify that a nurse visited not “always” or “usually,” but exactly how many times and for how long during the shopper’s stay.

I believe, too, that for maximum value, hospitals should receive the names or physical descriptions of all staff who interacted with the mystery shopper, how they were dressed, the exact wording they used when greeting the shopper, their thoroughness, or when appropriate, their lack of, and everything else they said or did during each visit.

Those are just two examples of the type of meticulous, reliable and actionable feedback you should expect to receive when you engage a mystery shopping firm at your facility. At Devon Hill, our average report also analyzes the mystery shoppers’ experiences during and sometimes after their visits, providing objective and subjective feedback on timeliness, responsiveness, friendliness, courtesy, cleanliness and ambiance in these and other areas:

  • Admissions and Registration
  • Exams, Testing and Procedures
  • Inquiries and Appointment Scheduling
  • Inpatient, Outpatient and ER Treatment

With report in hand, you’ll be able to clearly see your operation, in detail, from a patient’s point of view. You’ll know the processes and procedures that need reevaluation, the messages that are being communicated about your organization, and the staff who need retraining. Address these and other areas noted in the report, and you’ll increase the chance of future patients providing consistently favorable HCAHPS feedback.

In these days of ever-tightening budgets, you can’t risk losing reimbursements because of less-than-perfect HCAHPS scores. With medical mystery shoppers taking the pulse of your health care facility, you don’t have to.

For information about Devon Hill Associates’ Mystery Shopping Services contact us via our website or call 858-456-7800.