Healthcare Mystery Shopping: Improving Patient Experience (PX)

Medical Background, Healthcare Icon Medical Symbol

As a healthcare facility, you open your doors to many new faces.

Whether you are currently working for a hospital, surgical center, doctor’s office, or urgent care clinic, providing a safe and healthy patient experience (PX) is your top priority. That’s where methodologies such as patient satisfaction surveys and healthcare mystery shopping come in.

Market research for medical organizations helps keep the pulse on all types of healthcare facilities.

It provides high-quality data and actionable feedback to empower strategic data-driven decision-making. In a highly competitive space, healthcare market research can assure your brand identity, service awareness, and reputation is strong.

For instance, a popular study of our healthcare market research company is mystery shopping. A healthcare mystery shopping program can provide first-hand insight as to what it is truly like being a patient at your facility.

This blog post will tell you how to earn actionable feedback to empower strategic decision-making and improve the patient experience.

What is healthcare mystery shopping?

Mystery shopping is a type of market research that is often associated with retail organizations such as grocery stores and malls. However, mystery shopping has no bounds.

It can be conducted in various locations such as healthcare facilities as well as online or over the phone. 

A healthcare mystery shopping program involves a trained mystery shopper or a current patient executing a series of events similar to any other patient. 

At a high level, the series of events commonly include:

  • Making an appointment online or over the phone
  • Attending the appointment
  • Follow-up appointment action items

Each event has subsidiary questions for the mystery shopper to complete. They offer feedback on their experiences from start to finish. 

Of course, the major difference in these seemingly normal appointments is your team is not aware the patient is a mystery shopper.

As a result, your team is given an inside look at the patient experience without your team knowing they are being tested.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Mystery shopping for a medical facility prioritizes the patient experience by obtaining detailed information about important services.

What are the benefits of healthcare mystery shopping?

This type of qualitative market research can provide medical groups with the necessary data to better understand the 360-degree patient experience at its facility.

When partnering with a healthcare market research company, the feedback from the mystery shopping study will provide organizations with unbiased, credible, and representative views of their patient base.

When mystery shoppers–or patients, in this case–can see how a medical office treats people, that information is used to improve the patient experience. 

Therefore your facility will likely have happier patients in return, which usually leads to dedicated patients. In fact, these dedicated patients could very likely refer others to a practice. 

Healthcare is a field that’s unique in the sense that it deals with human emotion in ways that other fields do not. The sensitive nature of this field simply places it in a different league. 

For instance, no patient is excited to go to a doctor’s appointment. Because of this, medical facilities need to go the extra mile in having patients feel comfortable and at ease. 

What others may think of as little or non-issues, can make a significant difference in a patient’s healthcare experience. 

Consider the areas of focus listed below.

  • Is the reception staff kind and helpful? 
  • Are patient questions listened to? 
  • Are medical personnel easily reached? 
  • Is it easy to make/cancel/reschedule appointments? 

If one or more of these factors are sub-par, a facility is in jeopardy of losing a patient. 

While some of these factors may not seem like a “big deal,” they hold weight. With up to 1 in 5 current patients struggling to make an appointment, ask a question, and even receive their test results, medical office communication strategies hold significant weight. 

Simple fixes can not only correct any existing issues within these services but can also have a positive impact on patient experience. As we pointed out earlier, a mystery shopping program can address all of these questions and more. 

To learn more benefits of mystery shopping, watch this short video.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Mystery shopping for healthcare centers puts patient interaction to the test. Through this service, patient loyalty levels and overall satisfaction with the facility can increase.

Recommended Reading: Patient Loyalty Surveys: How (& Why) to Run Them


Who acts as the healthcare mystery shoppers?

Our healthcare market research company recommends using upcoming patients who have scheduled a visit to your facility or office. This audience ensures real people are providing real feedback on their medical needs to truly measure their experience as a patient of your practice.

Another option is to recruit members of the general community or a target market. Drive Research also offers qualitative recruiting services to make this possible.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Mystery shopping in the healthcare field often uses active patients awaiting an appointment. This is to ensure the feedback is gathered from someone who understands the perspective of a patient.

How does a mystery shopping program work with a market research company?

1. Kickoff and Workplan

Our healthcare market research company will schedule an in-person or online kickoff meeting with the stakeholders of your organization.

An agenda will be sent prior to the meeting which will highlight expectations, process, potential topics for the evaluation form, timeline, and next steps.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Drive Research will prepare a living project workplan that details deliverables, responsible parties, and dates of completion.

This workplan will be updated and shared throughout the project. The document ensures teams remain on track and on schedule to begin.

2. Provide Patient Database

Your healthcare organization will pass Drive Research a patient database file that includes contact information.

Patient databases often include contact information such as:

  • Patient names
  • Email addresses
  • Phone numbers
  • Physical mailing addresses

Once the participation ratio is defined (i.e. 1 of every 8 participants sign-up), our team can provide better insight into how many mystery shoppers will be recruited for the project. 

Our national market research company will track invitations and participation to reduce repetitive mystery shoppers. This will ensure fresh samples of new patient experiences each month when available.

3. Evaluation Form Design

Mystery shopping solutions in healthcare must have a detailed design in order to gather the best data.

Our team will utilize the feedback obtained from the kickoff meeting to create a patient experience evaluation form in Word.

This evaluation will address the key objectives of the study including a focus on each step of the patient experience.

This will be customized to match the patient touchpoints at your healthcare facility but may include sections such as:

  • Scheduling
  • Patient information packets
  • Reminder calls, emails, or texts
  • Check-in
  • Waiting room experience
  • Wayfinding
  • A pre-physician nurse or assistant in-room experience
  • Physician/mid-level in-room experience
  • Treatment
  • Prescription orders
  • Check-out
  • Payment and billing
  • Follow-up

Drive Research will recommend potential new questions to cover in the evaluation form which includes sub-categories within the touchpoint evaluation (i.e. cleanliness, communication, etc.)

The survey document can undergo as many edits as needed to finalize before online programming begins.

4. Evaluation Form Programming

Once finalized, the evaluation form will be created as both an online link with an option for a mailed paper version.

The online link is the easiest and most cost-effective way to complete the mystery shopping program evaluation for the patient.

The evaluation form will be PC, mobile, and tablet-friendly. The form will also be sent to your medical establishment for review so the internal team can view the evaluation form as if they were a patient participating.

The evaluation form is expected to take about 10 minutes to complete.

Our healthcare market research firm will also draft a one-page cover letter or email with instructions for the mystery shopper.

This letter will further explain:

  • Why your facility is conducting the market research
  • How the results will be used
  • How the results will improve the patient experience for the participant

It will also inform the mystery shopper on what to look for, listen for, and remember for the follow-up evaluation. Drive Research will pass your team a template as part of the draft evaluation form.

Should the patient request, an evaluation packet (instructions and follow-up survey) may be mailed to their household ahead of the visit.

This ensures all patients have an opportunity to participate as a mystery shopper even if they are not tech-savvy or do not have access to email.

5. Recruiting

Drive Research will recruit scheduled patients who are due for an upcoming visit to your facility as participants in the mystery shopping program.

If the program is conducted regularly, this would be an ongoing recruit with a new patient appointment file sent to Drive Research in advance. We find that there are many benefits of continuous performance measurement and tracking, and this should be considered with different projects. 

Our healthcare mystery shopping company will create a recruitment screener in Word with the recruitment criteria discussed in the kickoff meeting.

The qualifying survey will mention Drive Research calling on behalf of your organization regarding an exciting patient experience feedback project.

The caller will introduce the mystery shopping opportunity to the patient, explain the requirements, and answer any questions. The caller will also stress the confidentiality of the process to ensure results are not biased and the mystery shop is not mentioned during the visit.

Should the patient be willing to participate, Drive Research will confirm the contact information and send them the introductory email or cover letter with the mystery shopping instructions.

This can also be mailed via paper should the patient prefer this mode.

The confirmation of information will include name, date of appointment, physician to be seen, office location, email address, and physical address.

6. Fieldwork

Prior to fieldwork, Drive Research will thoroughly test and proof the evaluation form document and online link. The evaluation form (email invitation or mailed document) will be sent to all patients recruited.

Patients will complete the form post-visit. For those who participate via email, reminders may also be sent after the initial invite to boost participation rates.

Your dedicated project team at Drive Research will create filters and flags within the evaluation form to identify priority cases or poor experiences which arise.

These evaluations will be identified through a low likelihood to recommend score or other pre-defined metrics which cause concern for the client.

These cases will be forwarded via email to your team within 24 business hours of submission for review and case management giving staff the opportunity to create a more positive outcome.

Additionally, Drive Research can also offer your organization the opportunity to purchase a block of hours for telephone reminder calls placed to non-responders (if necessary).

This helps boost response rates if participation lags in a specific office, physician, or other quotas. These calls will be conducted by a live telephone interviewer from the Drive Research survey team. If the participant would prefer, the evaluation of their visit can be completed by phone at this time.

Drive Research recommends rewarding participants with some type of incentive such as a gift card for participating as a mystery shopper once the evaluation form is completed.

This is a thank you for their time to field the screening call, remaining aware of all touchpoints of the patient experience, and participating in a 10-minute follow-up evaluation form. These can be processed by our team as well.

Read our full post on why you should offer a reward for your market research.

7. Analysis and Reporting

Drive Research offers a variety of reporting packages based on your project goals and specifications. Our mystery shopping program reports may include:

  • An executive summary of key themes
  • Recommendations and action items
  • An infographic
  • An appendix of question-by-question results from the survey broken down by key categories and cross-tabulations

Drive Research can also provide our clients with an interactive online dashboard of up-to-the-second responses to the evaluation form. This link will be sent to your team with a separate passcode to access the data.

The data can be sorted by date, location, physician, and several other categories so your healthcare organization can keep the pulse of the patient experience outside of the report deliverables.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Healthcare mystery shopping involves several different steps, each of which must be carefully executed. 

Contact Our Healthcare Market Research Company

Drive Research is a national market research company serving all types of healthcare organizations across the country. We understand providing quality care to your patients is a top priority. Providing the healthcare industry with high-quality data and actionable feedback is ours.

To learn more about our services or to receive a proposal from our team, contact us through any of the four ways below.

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

emily carroll about the author

Emily Carroll

A SUNY Cortland graduate, Emily has taken her passion for social and content marketing to Drive Research as the Marketing Coordinator. She has earned certificates for both Google Analytics and Google AdWords.

Learn more about Emily, here.

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