Devon Hill Associates provides healthcare mystery shopping services

In the era of Yelp, Facebook and online forums, where patients can report anything at all to the Googling masses; where your competitive advantage partially rests on patients’ perceptions of your listening, caring, respect and service, gathering detailed, objective, comprehensive and actionable accounts of patient experiences is even more important than ever. The usual research methods of focus groups, surveys, family councils and rounding, etc., help in various ways, but they don’t tell the whole story of the patient experience. To do that requires analysis of a very special kind of feedback and insight that can only be acquired through multiple and comprehensive patient experience accounts or exhaustive direct observation of people and processes. It’s why service industries such as hotels, airlines and restaurants continually use Mystery Shoppers to evaluate the customer experience.

A Brief History of Mystery Shopping
The concept of sending in a so called “ringer” to report back is nothing new. Mystery shopping began in the 1930s with three men touring the country, checking out department stores. It gained traction during the civil rights era, when the government hired black and white “customers” to investigate compliance with desegregation laws. In the early 90s, a few forward thinking healthcare organizations discovered the benefits of using mystery shoppers to provide detailed feedback about their patient experiences, and to suggest opportunities for improvement to their processes, communication, and occasionally, patient care.

The Future of Healthcare Mystery Shopping
Today, mystery shopping is a 2 billion dollar plus industry. However, only a small portion is healthcare’s share, perhaps because its methods, benefits, opportunities and/or perceived threats are not widely understood. Whether that may be changing is unclear.

On the one hand, with the increase in online reviews and forums, and a better understanding of the competitive and financial importance of the patient experience, healthcare providers are increasingly poring over complaint systems, patient satisfaction study results and online sites for problems, trends and opportunities. Most have invested in family councils, rounding system and/or real-time software feedback systems along with traditional research methods in order to systematically uncover process, communication and even quality issues and opportunities. But only a small number have looked to mystery shoppers to help them.

 Perhaps that’s due to cost issues, perceptions that taking time to care for “faux” patients is inconsiderate of “real” patients, or a misuse of staff’s time. Or perhaps it’s feelings of discomfort, misconceptions of privacy issues, concerns about reliability and bias, or simply, a lack of understanding how mystery shopping works. Whatever the reason(s), a lack of understanding of, or appreciation for the many benefits of mystery shopping has limited its expansion in healthcare.

Beryl Institute 2018 Patient Experience Study
The Beryl Institute recently released findings from their 2018 patient experience study. The researchers looked at what was important to the respondents in various areas of the patient experience. One finding of their report, Consumer Perspectives on Patient Experience 2018, indicates that, although the results varied to some degree by generation, in general, 7 out of 10 patients will tell others about their good or bad experiences. The Beryl Institute concludes that healthcare organizations should be asking themselves,What is the story we look to create in the experience we provide and what we want others to tell about us?”

Benefits of Mystery Shopping:  Shaping the Story
What ARE the benefits of mystery shopping, and how does mystery shoppers’ feedback help organizations shape and mold the stories they want to tell? Quite simply, the ability to test the entire patient experience multiple times, analyze the results and provide detailed, comprehensive feedback about process and behavior offers healthcare teams exceptional insight into “quality” and efficiency gaps in procedures, communication, safety and, occasionally even patient care.  The more opportunities staff have to learn about how and why these gaps occur, whether from “real” or “faux” patients, the more likely it is that they will become consistently effective in meeting patients’ needs and delivering the best experience possible.

Mystery Shopping Applications
Mystery shopping has many applications in healthcare gathering information about, or finding answers to the following problems and opportunities:

  • HCAHPS and CAHPS scores
  • Satisfaction highs and lows
  • Performance highs and lows
  • Access issues
  • Scheduling techniques and efficiency
  • Training needs
  • Communication
  • Efficiency
  • Quality and safety
  • Pricing information
  • Compliance with rules or standards
  • Waiting times
  • Competitor comparisons …and more

Want to learn more about healthcare mystery shopping and whether it’s right for you? Visit all of our website beginning at or contact us directly at 858-456-7800 for a no-obligation discussion of how to put mystery shopping to work for you. Devon Hill Associates is nationally recognized for the quality and substance of our in-depth mystery shopping services. Our 90-second whiteboard video describes why.