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Mystery Shoppers To Test Minnesota Doctors

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Hundreds of Minnesota doctors will soon be part of survey commissioned by the federal government.

They will have "mystery shoppers" calling doctors' offices posing as sick patients to see how difficult it is to get treatment right away. The New York Times reports federal officials are addressing a "critical public policy problem."

"It's scary and nobody wants to be subjected to this kind of thing," said Dr. David Hilden with HCMC.

But Hilden supports the idea of the undercover survey.

"It will be helpful to see how we can improve practices," he said.

NewsRadio 830 WCCO's Edgar Linares Reports


Federal health officials commissioned the survey after seeing an alarming shortage of primary care physicians.

"There's a severe shortage of primary care doctors," said Hilden.

The survey will also see if doctors are selecting patients with private insurance over patients with government insurance, such as Medicaid. Those programs typically have a lower reimbursement rate for physicians.

"It goes back to economics really," said Mike Harristhal, Vice President for Public Policy and Strategy for HCMC. "If you look at it over the years, generally speaking, specialty care has been typically a more financially lucrative practice. Especially, for folks coming out of medical school these days with six-figure loan repayments to make."

Under the new Affordable Health Care act some 30 million Americans will gain coverage in 2014.

This is how the survey will work: A mystery shoppers will call 4,185 doctors offices in nine different states including Minnesota. They will target 465 offices per state. Each office will be called twice by someone who has private insurance and someone who has public insurance. Others will be called a third time and asked directly if they accept government or private insurance.

Some doctors surveyed by the New York Times say the federal government is using "big brother tactics" and are "snooping around".

"We don't have any concerns with that," said Harristhal. "We're pretty much in the public eye all the time. And truth be told we do the same kind of thing ourselves."

The data collected will be kept confidential, according to Federal Health Officials.

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