Secret shoppers can improve your LTC business

Any healthcare business, including long-term care, can benefit from implementing a secret shopper program. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities can improve not only patient satisfaction, but also quality, efficiency, and profitability. Long term-care facilities would benefit from secret shoppers’ evaluation of their assessment, registration, and visitation areas, but it is not impossible to also assess areas utilized after a patient is admitted.

For example, secret shoppers could accompany nursing home residents (as a family member would) during a care process. The secret shopper would carefully observe and evaluate the service provided to the patient or simply evaluate their experience from a visitor perspective. Sometimes even residents can be recruited for input. Although all of these areas are important to evaluate, one of the most important assessments you could make is on your marketing and admissions process at the point where families are deciding whether to use your facility. This is your first impression and it is important to execute it well. A secret shopper can ask questions, tour your facility, and evaluate your services just as any family member would when considering placing a loved one in your community.

A healthcare secret shopper program is unique from retail programs in that the shoppers may have to undergo clinical testing or treatment to gain the full experience—and this can be tricky in a long-term care setting. If you recruit the help of your residents you could evaluate clinical services such as therapies. Your program need not go quite that far to reap the rewards of a secret shopper program; that’s a choice you can make and depends on how far into the patient experience you want to evaluate. Most administrators will find success with simply using secret shoppers posing as patient relatives or visitors and evaluating experiences from an unbiased outsider’s perspective. Whatever you decide, we’ve compiled a few tips to get you started on designing a successful healthcare secret shopper program:

1. Involve employees from the beginning. Secret shopper programs can be devastating to employee morale if executed poorly. Avoid this by simply keeping them informed. Better yet, involve them in the design process.

2. Set measureable goals and make them clear. Before you design your secret shopper program, identify your organization’s goals. And don’t pick goals like “improve patient satisfaction.” Make them specific and measurable so you’ll know if the program is working. “Reduce visitor complaints by 15%” is a good start. Make sure you clearly communicate your goals to employees before the program starts.

3. Evaluate strategically. Think carefully about what you want to measure and how you plan to measure it. Include the visitor’s perspective as well as the patient’s. Establish a consistent grading system so you can compare units and departments. Measure on the same scale and use standard dimensions like: “service,” “process,” “friendliness,” and “professionalism.” Don’t use employees as secret shoppers. You run the risk that they’ll be recognized and perhaps more importantly, you don’t want to allow bias in the evaluation (or even the perception of bias). Finally, consider a measuring process as well as experiential data. Have your shopper track wait times and how long it takes to accomplish key tasks like registration.

4. Analyze, report, and share the results with employees. Post the results of every secret shopper encounter for all employees to see and to learn from. Consider creating friendly competition with contests and always reward positive outcomes.

5. Make improvements and educate staff. When outcomes aren’t so positive, learn from the results, make improvements, and educate staff. Do not make it punitive. Again, involving staff is very important and this is another opportunity to do that. Gather your team and identify solutions together.

6. Publicize your work. Let the public know what you’re up to; it’s a great way to show your commitment to your patients and visitors. Plus, you could win over some new fans and increase your market share. healthcare consultants can help you design and implement a secret shopper program. Contact us to learn more. Barbara O’Connell is Co-founder and partner of, LLC, which provides free healthcare quality and satisfaction information to consumers and low-cost marketing and patient satisfaction solutions to healthcare providers including nursing homes, assisted living communities, and more.

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