When James Loden, an ophthalmologist, recently peered into a patient's eyes, he was evaluating her for laser surgery to correct her vision.
But her eyes were sharp enough to have already scanned Dr. Loden's office, noting a small water stain on the ceiling in the hallway, the technician's missing name tag, and that exactly 55 minutes elapsed between when she came in the door and when she was seen.
This patient, armed with a quick smile and a hidden tape recorder, was actually a "mystery shopper" from a service paid by Dr. Loden to evaluate his own office.
Although health-care mystery shopping made up just 2% of the $600 million in revenue for the mystery-shopping industry in 2004, medical revenues doubled from the prior year.
Health-care facilities that use mystery shoppers say the reports have led to a number of changes in the patient experience, including improved estimates of wait times, better explanations of medical procedures, extended hours for hospital administration workers, escorts for patients who have gotten lost, and even less-stressful programming on the television in the waiting room.