The VCMS – what’s mediation got to do with vets in practice

Posted on October 18, 2018 by Jennie Jones

In the words of the great Tina Turner “What’s love got to do with it”? Well, maybe not love…but many see mediation as all about compromise and ‘loving’ everyone. In October 2016, the Veterinary Client Mediation Service was launched. The service is now approaching its 2nd anniversary and I am keen to share our experience across the veterinary profession. Over 2,600 complaints have been received by the VCMS since we launched. We now handle on average 177 complaints a month.

If a client has raised a complaint with a practice, and it cannot be resolved locally, the VCMS offers to mediate. Once we have all the relevant information from the client, we invite the practice to mediate. Warning! Another song title- while you ‘Can’t help falling in love’, you do have a choice about mediation. Mediation is about listening to the views of both sides and understanding where those views originate. If a practice agrees that mediation could be helpful, the mediation proceeds with a separate phone call between each party and the Resolution Manager. The client and the practice team do not speak directly. We would hope you have tried that before the complaint reaches us. Mediation gives both parties the chance to have their say and share how they feel about what has happened. Having acknowledged and understood, we then move to the more commercially focused aspects of the process. Having spoken with you both, our role is to then help find the common ground or a potential proposal. Mediation does not prescribe a resolution, and the parties are able to explore and evolve their own proposals (with guidance from us) so we can be as creative as needed. Resolutions have included:

  • Explanations
  • Further consultations or treatment
  • Ending the practice/client relationship
  • Partial/full refunds
  • Protocol changes
  • Agreement to undertake training
  • Payment of outstanding fees
  • Submitting disputed insurance claims
  • Recognition of an issue
  • Apology
  • Goodwill gesture
  • Acceptance

From my experience in this and other professional sectors, mediation is able to unlock barriers to resolution by acknowledging the emotional drivers of a complaint. When you are embroiled in the day to day of a complaint and busy practice life, it can be difficult to see the root cause and the driving force behind a complaint.

When I speak with practices who are unsure about whether to mediate, they will often say:

I’ve offered all I am going to give this client

Mediation does not mean meeting half way. With a resolution rate of 86%, it does mean you and the client have a good chance of bringing a complaint to an end. Some of the most difficult complaint circumstances I have mediated, concluded with the complainant feeling they had been understood, the impact on them acknowledged which then meant they could accept the reasonable proposal put forward by the practice. It can open up communication so the parties are able to hear and consider the response and the proposal.

There is nothing in this complaint

VCMS does not come with a guarantee of complainants cartwheeling for joy, but the feedback from both parties shows they find the process productive and helpful (95% were satisfied with the process and the outcome). If a complaint has been raised, there will be a reason. Mediation does not judge and the VCMS will not determine who is right and who is in the wrong. There are an indeterminate number of reasons why complaints arise – client emotions, veterinary professionals’ emotions, fee avoidance, poor care and service & unreasonable parties to name a few.

There may be ‘nothing in it’ from a clinical perspective but there is a driver. Legally, there may be no grounds for a complaint to escalate into legal proceedings or even to the RCVS and the realms of Professional Conduct, but dealing with a complaint by a motivated and aggrieved client can be time consuming, emotionally draining for all concerned (including the client) and increasingly runs a reputational risk with the role of social media in our society. 94% of practices would recommend the VCMS, illustrating that the process is not judgemental or to be feared. Directing an unhappy complainant to the VCMS and mediation gives you both a chance to try and resolve the complaint, and maybe even repair the relationship.

All in all, the past 2 years have shown that mediation does have a lot to do and is having a positive impact on veterinary practice.

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Jennie Jones

Written by Jennie Jones

Jennie Jones qualified as a Solicitor in 2001 and specialised in clinical and professional negligence claims for over 15 years. This gave Jennie a wealth of practical experience in practice standards, regulation and complaint handling in healthcare and regulated professions, which she brings to her role as Head of the VCMS.