• HHS Requests Comments On “Mystery Shopper” Plan To Determine Primary Care Physicians’ Availability To Accept New Patients
  • May 13, 2011 | Author: J. Austin A. Broussard
  • Law Firm: King & Spalding LLP - Atlanta Office
  • On April 28, 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published an information collection request in the Federal Register soliciting comments on a proposed plan to assess the availability of primary care physicians (PCPs) across nine states to accept new patients.  The plan, developed by the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), proposes to utilize a “mystery shopper approach” to collect data from physicians’ offices in order to “gauge availability of PCPs accepting new patients, timeliness of services from PCPs, and gain insight into the precise reasons that PCP availability is lacking.”  ASPE is the principal advisory office to the HHS Secretary on policy development and is responsible for major activities in policy coordination, legislation development, strategic planning, policy research, evaluation, and economic analysis.

    Under the proposed plan, ASPE will contact 4,185 PCPs across nine states (465 in each state) two times each, once posing as a privately insured patient and once posing as a publicly insured patient.  The contacts will simulate a prospective patient seeking care for an urgent medical need or requesting a routine examination.  ASPE plans to collect standardized information from each contact according to a standard protocol for each “mystery shopper” scenario.

    In addition, ASPE plans to contact 465 PCPs across the nine states for a third time, informing the PCPs about the purpose of the study, and asking directly if they are accepting new patients and how long it would take to obtain an appointment.

    ASPE estimates that it would take each PCP five minutes to respond to each contact, making the total burden on PCPs created by the proposed program 737 hours.  ASPE is currently seeking Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approval for the plan and estimates that the data collection portion of the program would be completed within four months of OMB approval.

    Public comments on the necessity and utility of the ASPE “mystery shopper” plan are due by June 27, 2011.