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Why medical professionals should test their healthcare practice experience

Mystery shopping is a technique used internally to measure quality of service, and can be an important diagnostic tool when running your practice.

doctor helping patient at the front desk

According to Wikipedia “mystery shopping is a tool used externally by market research companies, watchdog organizations, or internally by companies themselves to measure quality of service, or compliance with regulation, or to gather specific information about products and services…Mystery shoppers perform specific tasks such as purchasing a product, asking questions, registering complaints or behaving in a certain way, and then provide detailed reports or feedback about their experiences.”

What mystery shopping is not used for is to “Big Brother” one’s employees — to watch them surreptitiously or use findings to threaten or coerce staff regarding their performance. It’s meant to be a constructive exercise to get staff thinking about quality patient interactions and ways to make improvements.

If you have watched the CBS docu-drama “Undercover Boss,” that is exactly what the executives in the show are doing. For the uninitiated, during each episode, a company CEO or other VIP dresses up in a preposterous disguise and pretends to be a lowly worker showing up for training on his first day at the job. The “worker” typically visits a number of branches, is trained in a number of entry level functions, meets loads of hard-scrabble employees along the way, and learns a valuable lesson about worker experiences.

Depending on the size of your practice, you may not realistically be able to call in and pose as a potential patient, but your husband/wife/friend/offspring certainly can. Simply prepare a list of pointed questions for that person to ask when phoning and have them complete a questionnaire following the call. Then, talk through the results in detail, evaluating the caller’s overall experience, not just their written responses.

For a call to a primary care office, perhaps in searching for a new provider, your questions may look like this:

  1. Did you get through to the office on your first call? (try to call at a few different time periods during the week to get a fair answer)
  2. Did you have to wait on hold, and if so, for how long?
  3. Was the hold requester friendly and patient?
  4. Was there “hold” music and was it reasonable?
  5. When you reached the receptionist, how did she introduce herself? Did she provide the practice name, her own name and an invitation to help you?
  6. Did you feel like you had her full attention when she spoke with you?
  7. Were you able to ask about the various providers in the practice and get knowledgeable answers? (eg., questions about their specialties and backgrounds, and whether they generally run on-time)
  8. Were you able to ask basic questions without feeling rushed or like you were a burden?

Enlist that person to contact other area providers to ask the same questions and ask them to compare their experience against their phone call to your office. What were their likes and dislikes when speaking with your competitors’ staff? What was effective in their interactions with other offices that you may not be doing yourself?

Next, find another trusted friend or relative to do a casual “drop in” to your practice — as though stopping by on the way to work, perhaps — to observe their surroundings and approach the front desk with questions. A questionnaire for this individual may look something like this:

  1. Was the office clearly marked and easy to find?
  2. Was the office easy to find within the building?
  3. In your first impression of the office, was it clean, attractive, modern-looking?
  4. Were there sufficient reading materials or WiFi available?
  5. Was the receptionist friendly and helpful?
  6. Did she recommend materials to help get your questions answered?
  7. Was there appointment availability within a reasonable timeframe?

From there, you can take over the “mystery shopper” role, with a website user evaluation as though you were encountering your practice for the first time. Prepare another questionnaire that you can use to evaluate your own experience with your practice website as well as those same competitors’. Again, pretend you are a potential patient searching for information about the practice. In this case, your questions may look like this:

  1. Is your website easy to find if you don’t have the URL?
  2. Is it the first or among the first things you see when you Google yourself?
  3. Does it look attractive upon first impact? How would you rate the font size, color palette and overall readability?
  4. Can you easily find basic information such as the practice’s hours of operation and location?
  5. Can you research various physicians online?
  6. If you have a large practice, can you screen providers for factors such as gender, languages spoken and areas of specialization?
  7. Is the navigation throughout the site logical and intuitive?
  8. Does the site look and work equally as well on your mobile device?
  9. Can you click-through the phone number to dial the office directly on your smartphone?

Your practice is built on touchpoints — moments of contact between you as the provider and the patient or potential patient. Each touchpoint can embody a good or bad user experience that you should seek to recognize and, if necessary, enhance. While this article deals with evaluating touchpoints surrounding the new patient experience, you can extrapolate this type of analysis to any part of your practice — the lab, the patient intake process, the billing department, etc.

In the final analysis, your “mystery shopping” project may not all be fulfilled by you for practical reasons, but by reliable people that have your back. Trust them to translate their experiences to you, and if possible, learn as much as you can through your own first-hand experience. Then use this information to make improvements to your practice that can bring you a long way toward stronger patient relationships and greater patient satisfaction.

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