Each complaint or dispute is unique; the circumstances and the individual involved means that each mediation requires different levels of input. While ADR does involve a need to be proportionate, the Veterinary Client Mediation Service (VCMS) focuses on progressing mediation and engaging the parties to participate positively to find a resolution.
The VCMS mediation is conducted mainly by phone; clients are asked to provide a summary of their complaint, copies of their written complaint and the response received. The client must have completed the veterinary practice’s own complaint process before the VCMS will mediate.
If, on exploring their complaint with one of our Resolution Managers, the client accepts that the complaint is unfounded or unreasonable, then no further action is needed and the complaint resolved at that stage. Examples of complaints resolved at this stage have included queries on fee differences between practices, issues with completion of insurance forms or clarification of some clinical terms to improve understanding.
The client will then sign and return a form authorising the practice to release relevant information to the VCMS and vice versa. This allows the Resolution Manager to contact the practice, introduce ourselves and discuss the complaint to obtain the perspective of those involved. Rhona Wardrop, Resolution Manager at the VCMS, explains:
“We will liaise with whoever is responsible for dealing with client feedback or complaints and this will often be the Practice Manager, one of the partners/directors, or even a head office team if from a multiple clinic practice. We are happy to answer any questions they may have about the process, possible outcomes and what is involved on their part. Our aim is to reassure the practice that we are not here to make a judgment, but to focus on resolving the complaint without escalation. Most practices are happy to take part and we explain that they or we can involve the Veterinary Defence Society (VDS), other insurer or head office team if that would help. Where it will assist the mediation, we will ask for copy records and documents to be sent over to us (either by email or post whichever is convenient), and the mediation process can then begin.”
VCMS mediation is not face-to-face; conversations usually take place on the phone between either the mediator and the client or the mediator and the practice. The experience of the VCMS team suggests that direct communication between each party and the mediator is the most effective method in terms of proportionate input, success rates and minimising any impact on the parties involved.
The length of party involvement in mediation will depend on the nature of the complaint, the emotional state of the parties and their respective positions. If it becomes clear that mediation is not going to be successful the Resolution Manager will suggest a non-binding resolution. Where a resolution is found, the VCMS will provide both parties with a summary of the resolution and of any practical assistance to be provided. Rhona Wardrop explains:
“As each complaint is different, it is hard to say how long it will take to mediate a resolution. Once we have reviewed the information provided and have both parties’ point of view, most complaints involve a few telephone calls with each party. We aim to keep the momentum going but understand if either the client or the practice needs to take time to reflect or to get further advice. In some circumstances, we will get input from an independent veterinary advisor which helps to inform us as we mediate. Generally the practice will want to speak to the VDS and we will actively involve them if there is a clinical aspect to the complaint. It is rare for a client to have obtained legal advice or involved their lawyers and the aim of the process is to look for a cost, time and emotionally effective resolution and avoid the client escalating the complaint to civil court action, unfounded referral to the RCVS or taking to Twitter and Facebook”.