AMA debates ethics of hospital 'mystery shoppers'

These days, it's far from unusual for hospitals and clinics to send undercover patients in to check out how the staff treats them. Administrators say such phantom patients--better known as "mystery shoppers" in the retail world--can help them get a realistic picture of the experience real patients have when they visit their facility. However, to date such practices haven't had the official approval of organized medicine--and some doctors actually have suggested that such patients can crowd out 'real' patients from getting the timely care they may need.

At this year's American Medical Association, the ethics council is going to take an official vote as to whether the trade group should endorse the use of mystery shoppers. The AMA's proposal doesn't offer blanket approval for the practice. Still, the ethics group will include recommendations that mystery shoppers don't interfere with the treatment of real ones, that doctors are warned that undercover patients may be coming through, and that doctors aren't punished if they get bad reviews.

To learn more about the discussion:
- read this Associated Press article

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