Credit outspoken individuals with 'mystery shopper' project's quick demise

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When we reported back in May on HHS' proposal to deploy 'mystery shoppers' to determine how hard it really is for patients with various types of insurance to get an appointment with a primary care physician, the news was met with relatively little feedback. I didn't even notice many other media outlets making much of the government's potential plan (of which a 60-day public comment period began May 3). Maybe nobody thought the idea would come to fruition.

Nonetheless, I wasn't quite prepared for the blaring of the healthcare industry's collective alarm following Sunday's New York Times article announcing the program would move forward. But I was impressed by the magnitude of the messages being shared. Seemingly every time I checked in on my Google alerts or Twitter feed this week, I was greeted by another perspective on the government's 'stealth survey.' While the reactions in blog posts, news articles, and comments thereof ranged from support to outrage, it was a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius authored by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) that directly called for answers.

In particular, Kirk questioned how much the program would cost, how physicians would be protected from risks such as extortion, and why the survey was even necessary with a wealth of data about physician access already available.

Later the very same day after Kirk presented his remarks on the Senate floor, HHS put the kibosh on the whole thing--at least for now. According to the New York Times, HHS announced late last night that it "determined that now is not the time to move forward with this research project."

Whether you agree or disagree with the change, it's hard to deny it as a win for the art of communication. While the Senator's well-reasoned arguments against the undercover plan may be officially credited with its demise, the issue prompted physicians to make themselves heard loud and clear. This time, somebody listened.

Disagreement is as common in healthcare these days as the stethoscope. Membership in what was once considered the most powerful physician group in the nation--the American Medical Association--is dropping because doctors don't feel they're being truly represented. As a result, alternative groups are being created with the promise of giving physicians with all kinds of perspectives a voice.

Whether you fit into a particular organization, prefer to craft your own message, or some combination of both, there's too much on the line in healthcare today to sit back and merely listen to the conversation. Speak up. Write letters. Support organizations you believe in. Submit public comments. Be heard. - Deb

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