Bioethics Blogs

“Should I feel badly that I acted unethically?”

Ms. Barnard is a business woman who has opened a medical clinic across the street from an existing facility. She suspects that the Other Clinic is “playing unfairly” by not having a physician on site. Since a physician costs a lot of money to employ, the Other Clinic could be undercutting the competition if this were true as well as violating their state license. Ms. Barnard asks her employee, Roger, to visit Other Clinic posing as a patient and seeing if indeed there was a physician present. Roger made an appointment for a check up for a fictional trip: He asked for anti-malaria medications for travel to sub-Saharan Africa. The nurse wrote the prescription and handed it to him.

Now Ms. Barnard wants Roger to file a complaint with the health department because of the lack of a present physician and a nurse giving the prescription. Roger fears this might come back to harm him. “Businesses have secret shoppers all the time, but might Other Clinic retaliate against me? After all, they have my SSN and insurance information.” A co-worker said that she felt Roger acted “dishonestly, unfairly, and like a spy.” Roger asks, “Should I feel badly that I acted unethically??”

Many websites and services exist to help physicians “spy” on their competition. The advise is usually to visit their website, sign up for their email, and track them on social media. In this case, however, an employer asked an employee to pose as a secret patient. Certainly other companies regularly visit competitors to find new ideas and see how the competition operates.   But in this scenario, the goal was to find wrongdoing and then to report the competitor.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.