Recently, the Head of VCMS, Jennie Jones, spoke with the Vet Record to discuss the power of mediation. We have adapted her interview to highlight the power of mediation to share within our own resource centre as a supporting guide for the public and practitioners who may wish to consider mediation as a method of dispute resolution.
Since 2016, over 5,000 animal owners and practices have been supported by the VCMS and have found resolution within disputes, but how do our mediation services work and how to we seek to understand what the client is thinking?
Communication is at the very heart of how we operate, as we work with all parties to understand the nature of the complaint and what the client is thinking. By asking the right questions and understanding the client and the practice, we built a rapport that helps all to move forward and engage with our process.
In most situations, the animal owner and the practice are able to talk about the complaint, resolve it and move forward. Demonstrating empathy, seeing the situation from the other side’s perspective and trying not to make assumptions that something is clear enables practices to sort out most issues. We can assist at the earliest stage of a complaint, offering constructive guidance to both practice and client, calming the situation and working towards a mutually beneficial solution for all parties involved.
However, if the complaint cannot be resolved at a practice level – such as when the communication starts to break down – mediation can help. When complaints reach the VCMS, the owner often shares that they do not feel listened to, and the practice explains how much time they have invested in trying to resolve the owner’s concerns. This is where empathetic listening comes into play. Listening to understand and not to solve takes some time, but is critical in the early stages of the conversation, and engages both the client and practice in the journey towards resolution.
This in turn goes back to our first question – just what is your client thinking? The VCMS Team are not mind readers, but we do understand the importance of being able to actively listen to unearth underlying issues. For example, one reason can be that the client does not feel able to open up and discuss their concerns directly with the practice. Naturally, negative past experiences with clients mean that sometimes we make assumptions about the motive or trigger for a complaint, preventing us from really listening to the client’s true concerns.
The most important question we ask the client is: ‘how would you like the practice to resolve your complaint?’ A simple, yet effective, way to directly understand what the client’s ideal outcome would be. While there may be clinical question or issue, most complaints involve how a client felt. Often in raising a complaint, the client will receive a thorough clinical explanation of what has happened and why treatment was given or recommended, but does not address and acknowledge the client’s feelings, worries, or the impact of events.
By the time mediation is considered, the practice and client have generally exhausted themselves with ongoing communication reaching the point of no return. Our approach is to speak with the animal owner and the practice separately. This allows us to get to the heart of the matter by exploring what has been understood, what is still a live issue, and sometimes, the things people have not wanted to say to each other. It is in mediation that we find resolution and a common ground to help both parties reach a satisfactory outcome. Indeed, it may be as simple as an apology, with no admission of guilt or blame. It may be financial in nature (far less common than you may think), or just a straightforward explanation into decisions taken within the care administered.
Mediation is a powerful resolution tool that allows both parties to move towards a solution. For more information on how the VCMS may be able to help you, please contact our Team directly on 0345 040 5834 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.