Mystery Health Care Shoppers: At What Cost?

As Robert Pear reported in The New York Times, “Obama administration officials are recruiting a team of ‘mystery shoppers’ to pose as patients, call doctors’ offices and request appointments to see how difficult it is for people to get care when they need it.” The Administration is looking to determine exactly how difficult it is to access primary care physicians in different areas of the country, whether a patient has private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid.

Physicians are clearly unhappy at the pretense – callers will identify themselves as individuals, and ask if appointments are available. However, the Administration states that all information collected will only be reported in aggregate.

ACOs require significant participation by primary care physicians, and without sufficient numbers, an ACO will be unable to serve a sufficient number of beneficiaries to measure shared savings or quality improvement. In addition, health care reform seeks to insure all Americans by 2014. As Mr. Pear notes, Massachusetts implemented a similar mandate that all citizens carry insurance, and one unintended consequence is difficulty accessing Massachusetts’ limited number of primary care physicians. It looks like the Administration is attempting to address the issue, but at what cost to its relationship with physicians?