"As a matter of ethics, you always have to justify why you would need to deceive someone," said Nancy Berlinger, deputy director and a research associate at The Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute in Garrison, N.Y.In a time where ER's are overcrowded, resources are in short supply, doctors and nurses are pushed to their limits, and patients' care is compromised by this fraudulent activity, this monitoring practice should be outlawed.
Questions have also been raised about how far these undercover patients should go, because they could be exposed to procedures and medications that carry real risks.
Earlier this year, an Essex County, N.J., hospital had some of its own employees pose as secret shoppers to see whether nurses were reading back physician medication orders over the phone to ensure accuracy. Protocol also called for the nurses to record the encounter in the patient's chart
A spokesman for the hospital said employees from doctors to technicians were tapped to secretly observe the nurses, then record whether they complied with the rule.
"We discovered there was very high compliance, although it wasn't 100 percent. In those instances where the person was not complying, we just contacted them and informed them we really needed them to do this," spokesman Richard Wells said, adding that no punitive action was taken.