In our latest blog, we focus on a recent case study where our team successfully assisted in the mediation of a dispute between a client and veterinary practice. This case illustrates how practices can take specific steps to mitigate the risk of receiving a complaint that leads to a time-consuming and potentially costly dispute.
Following an in-person consultation, a client was left feeling frustrated as they believed the process could have been conducted online like many of the consultations which took place during the various lockdowns which occurred over the past two years. After a constructive dialogue overseen by the Veterinary Client Mediation Service (VCMS), the client was satisfied that an in-person consultation was the correct course of action, and the dispute was resolved.
From the beginning of the pandemic until very recently, many client consultations were completed online using video call technology. This solution, which allowed vets to carry out their duties whilst conforming to lockdown restrictions, has been a learning curve.
While some practices had already started to utilise this technology before the pandemic, for many this was new technology. Embracing Zoom to interact with friends and family is one thing, using this technology to view patients and communicate with owners was another.
On one hand, it allowed clients with less severe issues to make a call from home, minimising physical contact, unless the animal’s condition required physical examination.
On the other hand, it made it very challenging for some owners who had more serious concerns and would have ideally preferred to see a veterinary professional in person.
As we transition out of national lockdowns and restrictions, expectations of both practices and owners around the ongoing use of this technology is also a factor. In a recent case mediated by the VCMS, a client considered that an online consultation would have been preferable as it needed to be undertaken out of hours.
Six months previously she had taken part in a video consultation that helpfully provided her with the dispensary service she required. Following the success of this consultation, the client felt that a similar process should have been made available to her when she needed a veterinary professional at an inconvenient hour. The practice felt that an in-person consultation was a far more appropriate course of action as the client had explained during her initial phone call that her pet was still experiencing pain after two types of pain relief had been administered.
In light of this information, the practice considered that seeing the pet in person would allow the team to provide a more thorough consultation to ensure that it stood the best chance of avoiding hospitalisation. The practice and the owner had tried to resolve the complaint through the practice’s internal complaints process, but without success.
Upon entering mediation, the practice and pet owner explored the reason why an in-person consultation was the more suitable course of action.
During the mediation, it became clear that there were various checks that the vet carried out in the consultation that simply wouldn’t have been possible to conduct via a video call. Specifically, it was crucial for the vet to touch and listen to the pet before making a decision about the type of care this patient should receive.
In addition to this point, the vet also explained how the previous consultation was not carried out virtually for convenience, but out of necessity. As government guidance at the time prevented in-person consultations, the procedure had to take place online to minimise contact rather than to make things easier for both parties. As the second consultation demonstrated, the limitations of an online consultation mean that it is not always an appropriate method of communicating when looking for an accurate diagnosis.
An assessment of the situation on a case-by-case basis allows vets to consider whether they need the opportunity to handle pets and maximise the chances of making a correct diagnosis as quickly as possible. Although it is not always the case, it is certainly possible that vital information is inaccessible when observing a pet through video-call technology. In person, these kinds of behaviours are far less likely to go unobserved. While many vets and owners agree that there is a place for virtual consults in routine matters, and in some diagnostic consults, each case should be considered on an individual basis.
Following the mediation process, the client reflected on the explanations provided by the practice, the input of the VCMS Resolution Manager and gained a clear understanding of the context and the reasoning behind the approach taken.
The client was satisfied with the outcome and understood the need for an in-person consultation after recognising the vet’s opinion that vital information would not have been available or as apparent in a virtual consultation. They also explained how they felt this information had not been effectively communicated to them prior to raising a complaint.
Altogether, this case study reveals how practices can mitigate the risk of complaints by taking the time to thoroughly explain to clients the reasoning behind their decisions. Though the choices professionals make may appear self-evident in their logic, it’s crucial to remember that clients are often highly distressed and are not necessarily experts in the field. By taking this step, it is possible to use time more efficiently and ensure that clients are confident and satisfied with the decisions being made.
For more information and to speak to a member of our mediation team, contact the VCMS via firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0345 040 5834.