Sunday, April 26, 2009

Exciting News About Examine Your Practice!

This February Examine Your Practice was acquired by TrendSource, Inc., hence this long overdue Blog. We are now “Examine Your Practice a TrendSource Service”. We have been working hard to integrate our companies with a commitment to a smooth transition for our clients. I’m proud to say, we have been able to do so without a hitch!

TrendSource approached Examine Your Practice in December of 08 recognizing us as the industry expert in Healthcare Mystery Shopping. With the intention of growth through mergers and acquisitions, TrendSource saw tremendous opportunity in the healthcare sector. With their commitment to quality and integrity, the consensus was Examine Your Practice was the best fit.

I am utterly impressed with TrendSource, their sincere integrity and dedication to their 100% Completion Guarantee ™. I have complete confidence in their ability to handle the operations of my existing clients and the healthcare business we have generated as a team. I will continue to work closely with the Healthcare clients to develop and design their programs and now have phenomenal Executive, Operations and IT teams to execute and guide our projects.

If you are not familiar with TrendSource, Inc., they are a San Diego based, extremely reputable, 20 year old Mystery Shopping Company that is a founding member of the MSPA. Along with the existing Examine Your Practice Medical Mystery Shoppers, TrendSource maintains an exclusive, national data base of over 33,000 qualified and Rated Field Agents (mystery shoppers) that as needed will be carefully educated as to the intricacies of healthcare mystery shopping. TrendSource in an ISO certified company which means they are committed to quality, documenting what they do and doing what they document! Please read more about ISO Certification on the TrendSource web site.

I am very excited about joining the TrendSource team and look forward to long, happy and prosperous venture. We will continue to perform Healthcare Mystery Shopping with best practice and proudly deliver superior client services nationwide.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Patient, Patient, Gimme The News

Last month I had the privilege of being asked to appear on "The Doctors" as an expert on the topic of Healthcare Mystery Shopping. In light of the recent press and debate regarding the practice, I was prepared with a bullet proof vest; fortunately, I did not need it. They debated the topic but in the end they were very fair and agreed it was a valuable and necessary service. I alleviated their concerns that our "mystery patients" may displace actual patients especially in an emergency department and assured them our shoppers do not have invasive, costly procedures. I was truly grateful for the opportunity to educate the people and members of the medical community that may have tuned in.

The segment aired today, Friday 12/05/08. While it was barely 8:00 AM in CA, my phone began to ring. It had aired in some markets as early as 9:00 AM.
In the past, national media attention has also caused the phone to ring; the callers were generally viewers wanting information on how to become a “mystery patient”. I gently explain simply having been a patient does not qualify one to be a shopper for our company. We contract with experienced; usually MSPA certified shoppers and then educate them as to the intricacies of healthcare mystery shopping. If they are not certified, they must be computer literate, have exceptional writing and observation skills and mystery shopping or healthcare experience is a plus.

This morning however the calls were a bit different. They were patients having had less than perfect experiences with their healthcare provider, and not fully understanding the nature of our service, wanting us to mystery shops their provider. We of course cannot do that; we are hired by the providers not the patients. The calls were concerning to say the least and surely say this service is necessary. The patients’ issues were all around interpersonal skills and the way they felt emotionally after treatment. Most patients are uncomfortable discussing their experience with the provider and may feel intimidated. They expressed concerns that their treatment may be compromised if they complained. One patient that bravely did take her concerns to the provider was fired from the practice. On the contrary, her experience with another provider was so exceptional she was willing to drive 2 hours each way in inclement weather to continue treatment with them.

As evident above, we provide this service for both the patient and the provider.
Our shoppers will identify areas in need of improvement in an unbiased, unemotional manner to allow the doctors and staff members to see how their interpersonal skills and facility are perceived by the patient. This in turn will hopefully provide an exceptional experience for all patients moving forward and increase the doctors’ patient retention and referrals.
In addition, it is statistically proven doctors with better listening and interpersonal skills are less likely to be sued.

So as “The Doctors” agreed, we are not the enemy; we are there to help improve the healthcare experience for all involved.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Does Mystery Shopper Certification Matter?

Guest post by Cathy Stucker, author of The Mystery Shoppers Manual

You may have heard that mystery shoppers may be certified, but what does that mean to you as a mystery shopping client? Does a mystery shopping provider using certified shoppers have an edge over others in terms of the quality of the data they provide to clients?

The effect of certification depends on the quality of the certification program. The most widely recognized certifications are offered by the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA), the leading industry association. They offer two levels of mystery shopper certification: Silver and Gold.

To become Silver certified, a mystery shopper must complete a series of online lessons and pass a test on each lesson. Gold certification requires that the shopper attend a one-day workshop, or view the workshop on DVD. The test for Gold certification has three parts, including sections on observation skills and narrative writing. Silver certification is required as a prerequisite to obtaining the Gold certification.

Certification course materials cover the basics of the mystery shopping industry through more advanced skills and techniques that secret shoppers can use to provide better, more useful information to clients. Shoppers also get insight into how clients use the information obtained through secret shopping.

Perhaps as important as the skills and techniques gained through certification is the emphasis on confidentiality and shopper ethics. Certified shoppers agree to uphold a strict code of ethics, following principles of honesty, professionalism, fairness and confidentiality to guard the interests of clients. Violating the code of ethics can result in the certification being revoked.

A shopper who becomes certified not only receives valuable training and demonstrates competence in mystery shopping, secret shoppers who pursue certification are often among the most dedicated and professional shoppers. They understand the importance of providing accurate, timely information to clients, and take their work seriously.

MSPA launched the shopper certification program in 2002, and MSPA-member companies have found that most certified shoppers are more reliable and provide reports with better quality than most non-certified shoppers. Most MSPA companies prefer to use certified shoppers whenever possible.

So should you insist that your mystery shopping provider use only MSPA certified shoppers? That would be ideal; however, although the number of Silver certified mystery shoppers is approaching 100,000, certified shoppers are not available in all parts of the country or for all shops. Gold certified shoppers are even rarer.

Certification is one of the ways that mystery shopping companies screen for shoppers who will produce quality reports. For those mystery shopping assignments where certified shoppers are not available, mystery shopping companies typically rely on a group of experienced, reliable shoppers with whom they have relationships. How a mystery shopping provider selects qualified shoppers is one of the questions you should ask during the selection process.

Cathy Stucker developed the Gold Certification program with the MSPA, and presented more than 100 certification workshops across the United States and Canada. She is the author of The Mystery Shoppers Manual and blogs about mystery shopping at

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Is Telephone Mystery Shopping A Good Call?

Everyone I know has been on the receiving end of a really bad telephone experience.It may have been a rude employee, an excessive hold time or a total lack of communication. Worse yet, all of the above and then being disconnected!

Retail businesses and a variety of call centers use Mystery Shopping to monitor and improve customer service. The healthcare and long term care industries are also seeing the need and value of this service.

Telephone Mystery Shopping is a service by which a caller's first impression is thoroughly evaluated. The “Mystery Caller” uses a detailed questionnaire with a step by step account of their call. An experienced mystery shopper will provide a well written, comprehensive narrative summarizing their total experience. Forms may be customized to suit your organization or facility, addressing specific concerns or monitoring compliance with policies and procedures. You may also find standardized forms that include basic customer service questions but are designed specifically for the healthcare or long term care industries. The areas evaluated are:

• Basic Phone Etiquette
• Scheduling
• Automated Phone Systems
• Hold Times
• Staff Product and Procedure Knowledge
• Staff Interpersonal Skills
• Referral Tracking
• Compliance with Policies and Procedures

I recently ran reports and aggregated scores of the thousands of medical mystery shopping calls in our database. The most telling questions we include on all our custom and standard forms; "Based on your telephone experience, would you schedule an appointment with this facility? Would you recommend it to others? The results... drum roll please; nearly 25% answered NO.
That should tell you how damaging a poor first impression may be to a practice or facility.

The good news; monitoring scores from the beginning of a mystery shopping program, we have seen marked improvement immediately following presentation of initial evaluations. Busy with the daily operations of a practice or business; employees are simply not aware of the patient’s or client’s perception. Once informed, most are happy to make the changes necessary to improve patient/client satisfaction.

Mystery shopping whether it is a Total New Patient Experience, a Walk-In Visit Telephone Mystery Shopping or Patient Interviews is an excellent means to measure and improve the level of customer service. When presented correctly to employees, it’s a non-threatening process; it is a training tool and a means to encourage, praise and reward employees.

Telephone mystery shopping is a good place to start if you think the phone skills within your organization are less than perfect or you are seeing attrition; it is also the only way to measure the quantity of new patients/clients a practice or facility may be losing before they even get in the door.

Explaining what I do for a living is never a brief conversation and always opens the floodgates to the many stories of the inquirers less than perfect experiences with their healthcare providers. My mother has at least one a week for me; I put her on hold.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Medical Mystery Shopping in the News

Recently, healthcare mystery shopping was in the news again. The AMA ethics counsel is asking doctors to endorse the practice and not all doctors are onboard; view the debate. An Examine your Practice client Dr. James Loden has been an advocate of healthcare mystery shopping since he began using medical mystery shoppers 2 years ago. He made changes based on the unbiased information provided and realized an immediate increase in patient consultations converting to elective surgery and referrals.

Healthcare mystery shopping is very valuable to specialists or "fee for service" practitioners that offer elective procedures. Plastic surgeons, ophthalmologists offering Lasik surgery, cosmetic dentists and dermatologists understand measuring and improving patient care results in increased referrals and treatment acceptance.

Nursing homes and assisted living communities also employ healthcare mystery shoppers to make observations, recognize areas in need of improvement and reward outstanding employees.

The doctors that do not support medical mystery shopping have valid concerns but not all mystery shopping companies practice as they described. Experienced healthcare mystery shopping companies understand “mystery patients” should never go before real patients in an emergency room setting where life threatening situations may present. It is the healthcare mystery shopping company’s responsibility to educate the clients to the danger of such practice and presenting with chest pain or something equally emergent should not be done.

Medical mystery shopping is not about getting doctors and staff fired; we are not there to judge clinical skills. It is about recognizing training needs and view the facility through the patients' eyes thereby improving the patient experience. Many healthcare facilities use mystery shopping to reward staff, catch them doing something right; this creates a positive work environment and reduces staff turnover. Doctors and staff should not feel threatened or deceived by this practice; they should be proud to part of an organization that cares enough to measure their level of patient satisfaction and strives to provide the best possible patient care.