Kelly Hancock, a spokesperson with the Mystery Shopping Providers Association in Dallas, says being a medical mystery shopper patient requires no experience. The job is open to people of all ages, but the number of men and women 50 and older working as undercover medical shoppers is “growing tremendously,” she adds.
One of the reasons? The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) uses mystery shoppers who are eligible for these programs, usually people age 58 and older.
CMS mystery shoppers—supplied by outside companies—rate insurance agents who sell Medicare Advantage plans. They are told to look out for misleading information about the plans, and to report whether the salesman was clear and honest in all his dealings.
“We are constantly looking for seniors,” says Jodi Manfredi, manager at TrendSource, a company that offers mystery shopping services. Her company has more than 40,000 mystery shoppers and 340,000 applicants. Whether working in a department store or hospital, applicants must be able to assess situations and experiences, and write their assessments clearly.
The Mystery Shopping Providers Association provides links to different member companies offering employment, like TrendSource.
Medical mystery patients evaluate cleanliness, patient confidentiality violations—like divulging patient information in public areas—and overall service. They note whether the facility is organized and polite or slow and rude.
These “patients,” however, do not usually assess medical skills. Instead, they get a general feel for the clinic, hospital or doctor’s office, Manfredi says.
Hancock says the schedules of secret patients vary, so figuring their average weekly salary is difficult. But she says they can make from $8 to $20 per assignment. Mystery patients, like mystery shoppers in department stores, are independent contractors, so they often work for many different companies at the same time, and are free to accept or turn down jobs.
All mystery shoppers need to pay attention to detail. They must also “be able to follow through on the assignment they are asked to complete and have very basic computer skills,” Hancock says. And they must meet deadlines, she adds. After an assignment, mystery patients submit reports to their employers, which are then turned over to the clients.
Hancock warns people interested in working as mystery shoppers to beware of scams. “Avoid companies that charge a fee to provide a list of mystery shopping opportunities,” Hancock says. “The reality is that all of that information can be found online for free.”
Tauren Dyson is an intern at the AARP Bulletin.