Background: Performance measurement and quality of care in community pharmacy settings is problematic because of the lack of formal patient registration and the resultant risk of selection bias. Although simulated patients have been used for teaching and education purposes, particularly in medical settings, their use as a research tool requires exploration in other health settings. The purpose of this paper is to describe how we used simulated patients to measure professional performance of community pharmacy staff.
Method: Sixty pharmacies participated in a randomised controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of two guideline implementation strategies in the community pharmacy setting. The primary outcome measure for the study was derived from assessment forms completed by simulated patients following covert visits to participating pharmacies.
Results: Of the 420 simulated patient visits scheduled, 384 (91%) were completed. Nine visits were reported by pharmacy staff using reply-paid postcards, four of which concurred with known SP visits. Each detected visit was made by a different SP. In a post-intervention survey, 26 (52%) pharmacists stated they had been apprehensive about the use of simulated patients as part of the study, however, 41 (82%) pharmacists agreed that SP visits were an acceptable research method to use in a community pharmacy setting.
Discussion: Simulated patients are a feasible method of assessing professional performance in community pharmacy settings and overcome the methodological problems of other measurement methods. Further research is needed to assess the reliability and validity of simulated patients.