“Mystery Shoppers” Pose as Patients, Call MN Doctors

A new initiative by the Obama Administration will reportedly involve government contractors calling Minnesota's doctors' offices under the guise of being real patients; the effort, which some doctors oppose, will show whether physicians respond differently to patients with public or private insurance.

A total of 465 doctors' offices in Minnesota may soon receive calls from “mystery shoppers”-a team of people who will pose as patients and schedule appointments to determine how long it takes various patients to receive medical care.

That's according to a report by the New York Times, which states that government contractors will call medical practices and ask if doctors are accepting new patients-and if they are, how long of a wait period there is before they can receive care.

In all, the offices of 4,185 doctors will be contacted by federal contractors-465 each in the following states: Minnesota, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia.

At a time when there is already a shortage of primary care doctors, an estimated 30 million Americans will gain coverage under new health care laws, and they will need to find new physicians, according to the New York Times.

The government's “secret shopper” survey will look at whether doctors are accepting patients with private insurance while turning away patients in government health programs, like Medicaid and Medicare, because they pay lower reimbursement fees.

Each doctor's office will be called at least twice-by a person who purportedly has private insurance and by someone who supposedly has public insurance, the New York Times reported.

Some doctors, however, oppose the fact that the “secret shoppers” won't identify themselves as government contractors. In fact, the government contractors will reportedly block caller ID information to keep their identities from being discovered.

“I don't like the idea of the government snooping,” Dr. Raymond Scalettar told the New York Times. “It's a pernicious practice-Big Brother tactics, which should be opposed.”

Other doctors called it a poor use of tax dollars and called on the government to help support the industry, rather than spy on it.

The calls are scheduled to begin in a few months, and preliminary results from the survey are expected to be released next spring, according to the New York Times. To read the full report-including an example script that a “mystery shopper” would use when contacting doctors' offices-click here.