Saturday, January 28, 2012

850. Minimising complaints and litigation against vets at Toa Payoh Vets

Bali, Indonesia, Jan 29, 2012. 12.23 pm

In Bali, I have time to reflect on the plans to make Toa Payoh Vets one of the top 5 vet practices in Singapore. New clients have come in from other parts of Singapore probably from the internet and some old clients of 10-30 years ago have returned to consult me. "The vets are very young," one mother of two young men said to me when she saw me after an absence of 10 years. Her sons had brought the 11-year-old Jack Russell with a big swelling below the right eye and they are now in University. Of course, I did not know that the mother had brought the Jack Russell to see me 10 years ago till she told me. I was phoning her sons to bring the dog home on Day 3 and she was in the Surgery visiting the dog. The dog was barking like nothing had happened to his loss of masseter muscle tissue eaten up by bacteria. Big hole if you see the images.

The mother identified herself as the owner of the Jack Russell and said to me that for convenience, she had gone to other vets. "You still look the same," she complimented me. I was surprised and happy to see her and the two boys who have grown so tall.

I guessed the other vets closed on the 2nd day of Chinese New Year and I was on duty. So that was how we met. I said to her, "All vets started young. They have to learn from being hands on over the years and gain the experience."

In 2011, there was no complaint or litigation against the vets of Toa Payoh Vets. This is not a given.

1. One way to minimise complaints is for me to check all cases done by my younger vets. Sometimes I am inside the consultation room with Dr Vanessa Lyn, Dr Jason Teo or Dr Daniel Sing to assess their management of the cases. The new vets may feel uncomfortable as this may give an impression to the client that they are being supervised. They prefer to be alone with the client, thereby generating confidence. But this is not the way to increase the standard of care.

As an experienced older vet and the licensee, it is my duty to mentor the younger vets for the long-term good of Toa Payoh Vets. I have explained the rationale to them. "A complaint to the AVA or litigation takes up a lot of time and will involve me as a licensee', I said to them. "My licence can be revoked for failure to ensure an expected duty of care by my vets."

2. The internet complaints are the worst and I did come across one or two complaints of poor service by Toa Payoh Vets and also good comments. There were some clients who consulted me due to some good comments.

Recently I read in an internet forum about complaints against a brand name vet practice. Just one vocal writer but there were others agreeing with this writer. Another complimented about excellent services from another practice and got blasted for "advertising" for this practice. An ex-employee vet of the brand name practice put up a defence that the vets were good but that was some years ago and got blasted. There should be a law requiring internet complainants to reveal their real names as it is very easy to libel others under the cloak of anonymity. So far, I have not come across such venom as in the above-mentioned internet forum.

So, the associate vets or new vets must tolerate my presence and intervention and be humble. There are predatory vets in the regulatory field and amongst competitors and so, it is not as simple as in the university attending lectures and passing examinations.

In the real world of private practice, there are many aspects involving the bottom-line and younger vets must be able to accept and comply with instructions from me. Recently, one associate wore slippers to work. The excuse was that she forgot to change to shoes. A few days later, she wore slippers again. Her excuse was that the dog had peed on her shoes and therefore she had to wear slippers. I had told her that one Saturday when I dropped in (I don't work on Saturdays) and saw my vet assistant Mr Saw and old man James all wearing slippers. I have dropped hints that slippers are not permitted.

Young vets are role models for the staff as they are in the top of the ladder. If they dress casually, come to work late and go off without warning or do not bother with the management in my absence, the staff will do what they like. First impressions do count a lot to clients. If the vet and the staff cannot be bothered with their office wear, what about their standard of care? It is likely to be casual too.

I have decided that associate vets who don't accept instructions again and again will be, to put it frankly, sacked on the spot. The vet may be most popular but he or she can open their own practice and do what they like. Such behaviours cannot be tolerated as it affects the morale of the lay staff and the reputation of the practice in the long term.

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