Mystery shoppers to examine primary care availability

With primary care doctors still in short supply, the Obama administration has decided to use "mystery shoppers" to pose as patients and see how difficult it is to access care. The secret shopper survey will also try to determine whether doctors give different answers to patients depending on their insurance type.

"Access to primary care is a priority for the administration," Christian J. Stenrud, a U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) spokesman, told the New York Times. "This study is an effort to better understand the problem and make sure we are doing everything we can to support primary care physicians, especially in communities where the need is greatest."

Over the next few months, federal contractors will call doctors' offices---465 each in Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia--to try scheduling an appointment for a potentially serious health condition, as well as for routine care.

Each office will receive two calls: one from a patient who claims to have private insurance, and another from a patient who allegedly has public insurance. Eleven percent will receive a third call, admittedly from an HHS representative. Federal officials said the initial survey will cost $347,370, the Times reports.

Many doctors consider the survey to be deceitful, however, as the mystery shoppers won't identify themselves as working for the government. To ease concerns, a federal health official told the Times that the collected data would remain confidential.

For more:
- read the New York Times article