Mystery shoppers for mental hospitals

The New York Times has an article on an interesting scheme by a Dutch hospital where three ‘mystery shopper’ psychiatric nurses were admitted onto the psychiatric ward pretending to be patients in an attempt to evaluate the care.

The article mentions a similarly to the famous experiment where psychologist David Rosenhan asked several volunteers to report to a psychiatrist that they heard a hallucinated voice say “empty”, “hollow” and “thud”. When admitted to hospital, all the ‘pseudopatients’ acted normally but none were suspected as faking. In a subsequent study, staff ‘detected’ a range of genuine patients as ‘fakers’.

The similarity with the mystery shopper scheme is only cursory, however, as in this case the diagnostic systems are quite different, the ‘mystery shoppers’ extensively trained, and the staff were warned but were not deliberately looking out for the ‘impostors’.

The article finishes with an interesting commentary by psychologist Richard Bentall on why the scheme is using ‘mystery shoppers’ at all and what this says about how we regard patients’ own opinions:

“Having covert observation is going to provide you with information you probably wouldn’t get in any other way,” he said.

But Dr. Bentall also sees some irony in using proxy mental patients to illuminate the experiences of real ones. “Their stories are neglected,” he said, “and their understanding of how they got to be in the hospital is not considered important.”

Link to NYT article on mystery shopper patients (via AITHoS).

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