Mystery Patients at a Doctor Near You0

A new group of “shoppers” will soon be frequenting health care providers across the country. President Obama’s administration is assembling a team of “mystery shoppers” to pose as patients, contact doctors’ offices, and request an appointment. The objective is to determine the degree of difficulty in obtaining health care services.

According to the administration, the survey is designed to identify the scope of primary care physician shortages, including internal medicine and family practice. The survey intends to identify the physicians who accept federally funded health insurance (Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) and those who only accept private insurance.

According to a New York Times article, these patients will “call medical practices and ask if doctors are accepting new patients and, if so, how long the wait would be. The government is eager to know whether doctors give different answers to callers depending on whether they have public insurance, like Medicaid, or private insurance, like Blue Cross and Blue Shield.”
Physician reactions to this new survey has been mixed. In response to criticism, a federal official emphasized that the collected data would remain confidential. “Reports will present aggregate data, and individuals will not be identified,” said one White House official.

According to Christian J. Stenrud, a Health and Human Services spokesman: “Access to primary care is a priority for the administration. 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.”

Program costs are estimated at $347,370.


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