Obama Administration Planning Covert Survey of Primary Care Doctors
A planned federal government survey that uses "mystery shoppers" to determine whether primary care physicians are accepting new patients has riled many U.S. physicians, who say the project equates to "Big Brother" government snooping, the New York Times reports.
In an effort to assess the growing PCP shortage, the Obama administration plans to recruit a group of mystery shoppers who will call 4,185 PCPs across nine states, including pediatricians and obstetrician-gynecologists.
Each office will be contacted twice: the mystery shopper first will act as a privately insured patient, and the second time as a publicly insured patient. As standard practice, the mystery shopper will request an appointment seeking urgent medical care or a routine exam.
The proposal says the shoppers will use standard protocol to ensure that key questions are answered and that necessary data are gleaned from the calls.
In addition, 11% of physicians will be contacted a third time. During this call, the physicians will be informed of the study and asked whether they are accepting new patients and how long the wait time is to arrange an appointment. This questioning approach aims to corroborate the information obtained by the mystery shoppers, according to the proposal.
Plan Draws Physician Backlash
An HHS official says the study is intended to help the government support PCPs and evaluate whether federal health reform law provisions will increase PCP supply.
However, many physicians say they are reluctant to regard the government as a dependable business partner after it repeatedly threatened to cut Medicare fees, the Times reports.
In addition, many states have cut Medicaid reimbursement rates, forcing several practices to stop accepting new patients in the program.
George J. Petruncio, a New Jersey-based family physician, said, "This is not a way to build trust in government," adding, "Why should I trust someone who does not correctly identify himself?"
Raymond Scalettar, a Washington internist, said, "It's a pernicious practice -- Big Brother tactics, which should be opposed."
Stephen Albrecht, a family physician in Washington, added, "If federal officials are worried about access to care, they could help us. They don't have to spy on us."
A federal health official said that all information will remain confidential and that the survey reports will not identify individual practices.Mystery shoppers will begin calling physician offices within the next few months, and the government expects to present preliminary results next spring (Pear, New York Times, 6/26). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.