Healthcare Mystery Shopping News & Notes




How Transparent Are Your Prices? A Top 2014 Healthcare Industry Issue

Price transparency will be one of the top industry issues for 2014 according to recent Modern Healthcare and PwC’s Health Research Institute’s reports.

  • Cost conscious employers are making price transparency a factor in negotiations with health plans and providers;
  • A little-noticed provision in the Accountable Care Act (ACA) requires all hospital to publish and annually update their standard charges for items and services; and
  • Patients, who are being asked to pay more out-of-pocket are demanding more information on healthcare prices.

A National Business Group on Health study found that more than 1 in 5 U.S. employers (22 percent) had plans that required a minimum deductible of $1,250. Also, because of the botched rollout, the loss of medical insurance by over 6 million people, employers downsizing or moving employees onto the exchanges, many citizens will be required to pay more out-of-pocket for their healthcare. Moreover, according to the Wall Street Journal, “bare bones” plans that were supposed to become obsolete will survive because of a quirk in the ACA law — as long as companies offer at least one plan that complies with the law, they can keep offering ones that don’t!

There are a variety of tools that employers and consumers can use to research healthcare prices. State and federal websites, health plans’ claims data and private websites such as the Fair Health Consumer Cost Lookup offer some price information. Nevertheless, many patients will end up calling local hospitals and medical groups to check out the cost of their tests or procedures. And, no doubt, government and the media will test price transparency and publish the results.

In 2005, Devon Hill Associates conducted a study of price transparency at 64 hospitals sponsored by the California HealthCare Foundation — Price Check: The Mystery of Hospital Pricing. 622 calls and visits by mystery shoppers determined that there was a serious communications gap between hospitals and patients — a gap that management was often not aware of.

Several years later we conducted a mystery shopping study for 11 Virginia hospitals sponsored by the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association — and found similar results.

How ready is your organization for real price transparency? Ask yourself: Do you know how price questions are actually responded to in your organization? Do patients encounter helpful, informative staff and/or user-friendly resources or tools? Mystery shopping is an opportunity for providers to obtain detailed feedback about their price transparency — and about the patient experience finding it.

Contact Barbara Gerber, President of Devon Hill Associates at 858-456-7800 or complete the inquiry form on our website for more information about how to assess the state of your organization’s price transparency.

“Little Things” Trigger Patient Dissatisfaction

During our years of experience in hospital mystery shopping, we’ve detected a pattern of “little things” that make patients and families feel irritated, anxious, sometimes disrespected or even dissatisfied with their hospital experience. Here are some of the most common — and easily corrected — ones:

  1. Lack of response at admitting and registration desks. A patient arrives at the admitting or registration area and stands in front of an employee without acknowledgement. The result? The patient feels initially unwelcome, anxious or annoyed, and a critical opportunity is missed to set a positive tone for the entire experience.
  2. Behaving in ways that make patients feel more like numbers than humans. Here’s how one ER patient described her experience: “The first question I was asked wasn’t ‘How can I help you?’ It was ‘Do you have a photo ID?’ I know it’s important to check my identity, but doing so first seemed cold and uncaring.”
  3. Getting down to business before personally engaging patients. Too often health care staff jump right in and start performing their functions without greeting a patient, introducing themselves or their roles, or explaining what they’re about to do. This heightens a patient’s feelings of uncertainty and anxiety — another “missed opportunity” to demonstrate warmth, caring and respect.
  4. When staff pay more attention to each other than to the patients. This can take many forms, from staff chatting or laughing at the nurses’ station to sidebar conversations in hallways or joking with other staff members in the room while treating patients. Patients and family members feel “invisible” — and unwanted.

We regularly encounter dozens of other “little things” that all add up, bothering patients and negatively impacting their perceptions of their care. For example, we’re always struck by the number of staff who leave ER treatment rooms without offering comfort items such as blankets or pillows, or providing the patient with a way to summon help — or the frequent times patients are dropped off at their rooms with no one there to welcome and orient them.

Patient satisfaction and a positive experience requires more than good clinical care. Good clinical care is crucial but it doesn’t always win the hearts of patients or their families, and rarely does it create memorable patient experiences. What creates satisfaction and makes a lasting impression on many patients is the way they are treated.

If you’d like to identify situations where your staff may not be delivering the quality of service you and your patients expect, contact Devon Hill Associates today.

Hospital mystery shopping is an opportunity for “patients” to share detailed written feedback about their experiences in real time. Now that some hospital reimbursement is based on patient satisfaction performance measures, mystery shopping can directly impact your bottom line. Let us tell you how! Or ask about our medical mystery shopping for your outpatient and clinic areas, as well.


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Devon Hill Associates provides Mystery Shopping for Hospitals, Healthcare and Senior Living & Long-term Care Organizations

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For information on mystery shopping and other services, call Barbara Gerber at +1-858-456-7800.

Devon Hill Associates LLC 1535 El Paso Real La Jolla, CA 92037 Tel: 1-858-456-7800 Contact: Barbara Gerber

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