This spring, three psychiatric nurses, employed by a consulting company, got themselves admitted as patients to a locked psychiatric ward in the Netherlands. The nurses, posing as patients, were acting as “mystery shoppers” in an effort to evaluate conditions at the hospital. Generally mystery shoppers are individuals employed to evaluate the quality of retail services or amass information about specific consumer goods. In this case, the service to be evaluated was psychiatric care. Such investigative work is reminiscent of past studies of psychiatric care that used pseudopatients to evaluate hospital conditions and challenge the validity of psychiatric diagnosis.
In this current study, staff at the hospital were informed that these mystery shoppers, or pseudopatients, would be visiting the facility, although the individuals posing as patients were not identified to the staff. According to the New York Times,
The undercover patients developed their fictive biographies in months of meetings with an acting coach and a psychotherapist. “Ronald,” for example, was a middle-aged man with a history of aggression problems, and after a supposed suicide attempt he was taken to De Riethorst by an actor playing his brother. To make their stories believable, the patients memorized details about where their children went to school or which supermarket they shopped at, and the psychotherapist advised them on how to present their given mental illness convincingly.
To ensure their safety, the fake patients checked in via text message every three hours, and they carried letters identifying them as plants. Continue reading “Mystery Shoppers” or “Pseudopatients”?