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Mystery shopping in psychiatric service evaluation – ethical issues

  • Tom Walker (a1) and Sanju George (a2)
Summary

Mystery shopping is being increasingly used in psychiatric service evaluation but because it involves an element of deception, akin to research involving pseudo-patients, questions have been raised about its ethical acceptability. Here we discuss these ethical issues and argue that mystery shopping should only take place subject to certain conditions. First, it ought to be clear that the evaluation cannot be done by using non-deceptive methods. Second, independent scrutiny should conclude that the importance of the aims of the evaluation is sufficient to justify the deception used.

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Copyright
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
Sanju George (sanju.george@bsmhft.nhs.uk)
Footnotes
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Declaration of interest

S.G. is an expert panel member of Birmingham and Solihull research ethics committee, and T.W. is a member of Keele University's ethics review panel.

Footnotes
References
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1 Jesson, J. Mystery shopping demystified: is it a justifiable research method? Pharm J 2004; 272: 615–7.
2 Moriaty, H, Mcleod, D, Dowell, A. Mystery shopping in health service evaluation. Br J Gen Pract 2003; 53: 942–6.
3 Levine, MA. Reports of the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs: Secret Shopper ‘Patients’: 248–51. American Medical Association, 2008 (http://www.ama-assn.org/ama1/pub/upload/mm/38/a08cejoreports.pdf).
4 Rosenhan, DL. On being sane in insane places. Science 1973; 179: 250–8.
5 Newton, LH. Dentists and pseudo-patients: further meditations on deception in research. IRB 1982; 4: 68.
6 Herrera, CD. Reconsidering the pseudo-patient study. Camb Q Healthc Ethics 2001; 10: 325–32.
7 Economic and Social Research Council. ESRC Research Ethics Framework. ESRC, 2010 (http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/Images/Framework%20for%20Research%20Ethics%202010_tcm6–35811.pdf).
8 British Sociological Association. Statement of Ethical Practice for the British Sociological Association. BSA, 2002 (http://www.britsoc.co.uk/NR/rdonlyres/801B9A62-5CD3-4BC2-93E1-FF470FF10256/0/StatementofEthicalPractice.pdf).
9 Elms, AC. Keeping deception honest: justifying conditions for social scientific research stratagems. In Ethical Issues in Social Science Research (eds Beauchamp, T, Faden, RR, Wallace, RJ Jr, Walters, L): 232–45. Johns Hopkins University Press,, 1982.
10 MacKay, C. Reconsidering the pseudo-patient study. Commentary. Cam Q Healthc Ethics 2001; 10: 332–4.
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BJPsych Bulletin
  • ISSN: 1758-3209
  • EISSN: 1758-3217
  • URL: /core/journals/bjpsych-bulletin
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Mystery shopping in psychiatric service evaluation – ethical issues

  • Tom Walker (a1) and Sanju George (a2)
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