The Dreaded Board Complaint

 

Over the years I have heard many veterinarians voice concern that a disgruntled client will launch an unfounded board complaint.  The reality is Board complaints are very rare and usually are more about poor communication than medical errors.  Still, it is important to appropriately protect your license and your livelihood by keeping meticulous medical records and making sure you document your communication with clients.

Recently I was involved in assisting a consulting client to respond to a complaint to the Board.  When we originally began our consultation I encouraged this very busy practice group to utilize medical dictation software and to get Weave telephones for call recording and text messaging.  The practice owner was very pleased with both systems but when the complaint came in he was over the moon that we were able to listen to all the phone conversations with the client from Weave recordings.

Since this complaint was about a visit that occurred almost 5 months prior to the complaint being lodged, being able to remember the calls would have been impossible. They would also have been just hearsay.  Fortunately, we were able to recreate not only a timeline of client calls to the practice but also the rapid response to her calls made by the attending DVM, often within less than 7 minutes.

I instructed my client to download all the calls to a flash drive and then transcribe the content into a step-by-step timeline document to give to the board. Of course, the medical chart notes were also printed and shared.  Because we could prove the client had never informed us of what she perceived as two issues (limping and seizures) resulting from a routine spay and tumor removal from a 12-year-old 8-pound dog, during the multiple calls and return visits, this board complaint will be easily resolved in the practice’s favor.

As the manager, owner, and I went through the timeline the owner also remarked how valuable Weave recordings had been to support his team.  He said, “the folks know we have their back” when clients make false statements.   They were also sharing the recordings with the staff to help train communication skills, especially where a little more “verbal finesse” would have quickly solved a problem.

Medically there was no error.

However, there was a communication mistake.  In the rush of curbside Covid, the doctor discharged the patient without explaining to the client why the incision was not cosmetically attractive.  The tumors were very close to the midline incision for the spay and closing them with clean margins was challenging.  An assistant performed the discharge but did not properly prepare the client for what she would see and why it was necessary.

Later that evening, the client posted a picture of the surgical site online and one of her friends jumped on the “board complaint” train.  It was apparent from the photograph that the dog was having a suture reaction, but the client didn’t call to share this information for two days, at which time it was immediately addressed by the practice. 

Board complaints take a lot of time to investigate, document, and resolve.  All the hours of manpower it took to respond to the complaint would have been unnecessary if the staff had just had 15 minutes of open and honest discussion with the owner at the time of discharge.  Ironically, this was something I had coached as important and necessary for great client service to the team over a year prior.  They had implemented discharge appointments but, in a rush, skipped their own protocol.  Keep in mind that this practice is loaded with 5-star reviews on Google and Facebook so they give great service… they just skipped their own rules in haste.

Client communication is one thing we should never shortchange.  Failure is often a good teacher and believe me this team will never let a client leave again without proper education.

If you need help with communication training and setting up client education protocols please contact me through my website.  www.dboone2managevets.com