HHS pitches 'mystery shoppers' to evaluate PCP availability

Looking to get a better idea of how long it takes patients to get new appointments with primary-care physicians and why, the Department of Health and Human Services has proposed a widespread study using 'mystery shoppers.'

Under the proposal set out in the April 28 Federal Register, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation would contact 465 U.S. PCPs twice--once posing as a privately insured patient and again using a publicly insured patient scenario. The experiments would also be divided between requests for routine exam appointments and urgent medical needs. Standard protocols will be followed for each scenario to ensure integrity of the data.

Finally, to evaluate the accuracy of the mystery shopper approach, researchers would call each of the physicians across the nine participating states a third time to tell them about the study and ask direct questions about the time to get a new appointment and whether they are accepting new patients.

A 60-day public comment period for the proposal is now underway. Data collection is expected to be complete within four months of the project getting clearance from the Office of Management and Budget.

To learn more:
- read the article from Physician's Money Digest
- see this piece from HealthImaging
- see the notice in the April 28 Federal Register