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Strategies for Optimal Implementation of Simulated Clients for Measuring Quality of Care in Low- and Middle-Income Countries


Fitzpatrick, Anne & Tumlinson, Katherine (2017). Strategies for Optimal Implementation of Simulated Clients for Measuring Quality of Care in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. Global Health: Science and Practice, 5(1), 108-114. PMCID: PMC5493448


The use of simulated clients or "mystery clients" is a data collection approach in which a study team member presents at a health care facility or outlet pretending to be a real customer, patient, or client. Following the visit, the shopper records her observations. The use of mystery clients can overcome challenges of obtaining accurate measures of health care quality and improve the validity of quality assessments, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. However, mystery client studies should be carefully designed and monitored to avoid problems inherent to this data collection approach. In this article, we discuss our experiences with the mystery client methodology in studies conducted in public- and private-sector health facilities in Kenya and in private-sector facilities in Uganda. We identify both the benefits and the challenges in using this methodology to guide other researchers interested in using this technique. Recruitment of appropriate mystery clients who accurately represent the facility's clientele, have strong recall of recent events, and are comfortable in their role as undercover data collectors are key to successful implementation of this methodology. Additionally, developing detailed training protocols can help ensure mystery clients behave identically and mimic real patrons accurately while short checklists can help ensure mystery client responses are standardized. Strict confidentiality and protocols to avoid unnecessary exams or procedures should also be stressed during training and monitored carefully throughout the study. Despite these challenges, researchers should consider mystery client designs to measure actual provider behavior and to supplement self-reported provider behavior. Data from mystery client studies can provide critical insight into the quality of service provision unavailable from other data collection methods. The unique information available from the mystery client approach far outweighs the cost.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Global Health: Science and Practice


Fitzpatrick, Anne
Tumlinson, Katherine