U.S. Using ‘Mystery Shoppers’ to Check on Access to Doctors

U.S. Plans Stealth Survey on Access to Doctors

Robert Pear
The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Alarmed by a shortage of primary care doctors, Obama administration officials are recruiting a team of “mystery shoppers” to pose as patients, call doctors’ offices and request appointments to see how difficult it is for people to get care when they need it.

The administration says the survey will address a “critical public policy problem”: the increasing shortage of primary care doctors, including specialists in internal medicine and family practice. It will also try to discover whether doctors are accepting patients with private insurance while turning away those in government health programs that pay lower reimbursement rates…

…Plans for the survey have riled many doctors because the secret shoppers will not identify themselves as working for the government.

“I don’t like the idea of the government snooping,” said Dr. Raymond Scalettar, an internist in Washington. “It’s a pernicious practice — Big Brother tactics, which should be opposed.”…

…Dr. George J. Petruncio, a family doctor in Turnersville, N.J., said: “This is not a way to build trust in government. Why should I trust someone who does not correctly identify himself?”

Dr. Stephen C. Albrecht, a family doctor in Olympia, Wash., said: “If federal officials are worried about access to care, they could help us. They don’t have to spy on us.”

Dr. Robert L. Hogue, a family physician in Brownwood, Tex., asked: “Is this a good use of tax money? Probably not. Everybody with a brain knows we do not have enough doctors.”…

…Access to care has been a concern in Massachusetts, which provides coverage under a state program cited by many in Congress as a model for President Obama’s health care overhaul.

In a recent study, the Massachusetts Medical Society found that 53 percent of family physicians and 51 percent of internal medicine physicians were not accepting new patients. When new patients could get appointments, they faced long waits, averaging 36 days to see family doctors and 48 days for internists…

Read the entire article at The New York Times.

H/T Instapundit where Glenn Reynolds added, “A reader warns that this is how James O’Keefe wound up facing federal charges. Being checked up on is for the little people!”

Related: At American Thinker, Doctors’ Loss of Moral Agency

Medicine is a moral profession and physicians are agents of the commitment to place another’s concern above their own. The practice of medicine provides a singular opportunity for moral clarity. The proposals for healthcare reform presuppose that the underlying economic model sustains unsatisfactory outcomes and social inequities. We believe, however, that a root cause resides in ethical failings now systemic in the day-to-day practice of medicine.

These failings, hidden from the public but corrosive to the physician, have taken a great toll. Physician surveys document disillusionment, depression, and a sense of powerlessness. Blame is sought in “bureaucracy,” a litigious society, or from diminished patient “loyalty.” Doctors flee practices or choose specialties distant from patient contact. Palpable resentments surface when doctors talk privately.

In two generations, medicine has fallen from a near-religious height to descend steeply down the slope of social worth. Though patients are reluctant to say it, we suspect that there is more than a little Michael Moore in many. No one likes what has happened to the profession. But doctors in practice, not doctors as “policy wonks,” are the only group that can really change it.

Doctors know what they do not know. They know that a 10-minute visit skims the surface of most illnesses. Case presentations to other doctors are filled with too many tests and often too many complications. Society imagines that better healthcare will come from finding just the right payment formula. Yet the truth is that, even in a reformed system, doctors must again choose to practice within boundaries set by moral standards…

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