Inadequate communication is the number 1 cause for investigations into unprofessional conduct.
Investigations into unprofessional conduct in the veterinary profession are often the result of communication breakdown. Despite the best veterinary care, clinical cases may not always have good outcomes. Bad outcomes combined with poor communication can lead to complaints. Complaints can be emotionally and physically stressful to veterinary professionals causing one to question their process of care. Risks surround veterinary professionals every day but recognizing that the greatest risk is poor communication can help veterinarians to implement processes to protect themselves and their practice.
Honest and open communication is key
In human medicine, the more likeable the doctor, the more likely you are to believe you are receiving high-quality care. It is estimated that over 60% of pet owners consider their pets as family members. These highly bonded customers have significantly greater expectations when it comes to the care they receive. Showing genuine care for a pet will create customers that are more forgiving should an unexpected event occur.
Informed consent is essential. Pet owners should have a full understanding of the risks and complications e.g. the spinal surgery may lead to paralysis or the general anesthesia on rare occasions may result in death. This should be given as a verbal and written explanation. Written client communications should be easy to read, use minimal veterinary terms, be no longer than a page, cover key home care instructions (feeding, restrictions, medications etc) and detail what to look out for or what to expect. Digital communications are easier and more convenient for customers to refer back to or share with all family members.
Steps to effective communication
- Listen carefully
- Show empathy and concern
- Offer clear answers and instructions
- Seek assistance or referral when appropriate
- Address customer concerns or complaints
- Set realistic expectations
- Inform all relevant family members, as primary carers are not always present
- Offer verbal and written digital communications in simple language
- Maintain current professional knowledge
- Training of staff to develop a team of well-educated communicators
- Written communication protocols
- Document all communications
Minimising & Handling Complaints with Tanja Mimica B.Sc. MBA
Breaking down customer complaints
"Customer complaints are time consuming and stressful.
I have dealt with a lot of client complaints and I can honestly say that 95% are not due to inadequate patient care. The vast majority of client complaints arise because the client's expectations have not been met, and the reason their expectations haven't been met is because they were never set in the first place.
This also comes back to communication. So, to prevent client complaints, set clear expectations every step of the way.
An example of this is ear problems - I have had many clients complain after their third or fourth revisit for a reoccuring ear infection. If they were told that ear infections can take a long time to treat, that they will likely need to come back to the practice multiple times, that they'll be charged a revisit fee each time and that despite your best efforts, the infection may reoccur, these complaints can be avoided."
About Tanja Mimica
Tanja has almost 15 years experience in the vet industry, having worked as a vet nurse, practice manager, and more recently as business operations manager at Greencross and Vetwest Animal Hospitals.
Clark PA. "Medical practices' sensitivity to patients' needs: Opportunities and practices for improvement," Journal of Ambulatory Care Management 2003;26:110-123.
Determining the characteristics of effective veterinary-client communication using the client’s perspective, the human-animal bond, and communication accommodation theory, Michael Meehan (2011). Determining the characteristics of effective veterinary-client communication using the client’s perspective, the human-animal bond, and communication accommodation theory PhD Thesis, School of Veterinary Science, The University of Queensland.