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Quantitative and thematic analysis of complaints by clients against clinical veterinary practitioners in New Zealand

Authors: Bolwell CF, Benschop J, Weston JF, Gordon SJG, Parkinson TJ, Gardner DH
Publication: New Zealand Veterinary Journal, Volume 67, Issue 3, pp 117-125, May 2019
Publisher: Taylor and Francis

Article class: Scientific Article

Aims: To provide a descriptive analysis of all notifications and complaints received by the Veterinary Council of New Zealand (VCNZ) during 1992–2016 and to use a thematic analysis of complaints made by clients to the VCNZ during 2013–2015 to determine the underlying reasons for their complaints.

Methods: A mixed methods approach was used. Notifications and complaints against veterinarians between 1992–2016 (n=1218) were summarised based on complaint categories and by gender of the veterinarian respondents, the number of years registered with the VCNZ and the animal species to which the complaint related. In-depth thematic analysis was made of the content of clients’ complaints between 2013–2015 (n=141) to identify details of the key themes and subthemes underlying the complaints.

Results: The VCNZ categorised 595/959 (62.0%) of the complaints made between 1992–2016 as related to technical competency, and 308/959 (32%) to professional behaviour. Of the 1,218 complaints, 818 (67.2%) were not investigated or were dismissed, and 18 (1.5%) cases were upheld due to technical competency concerns. Of the complaints in which animal species was identified, 623/738 (84.4%) involved companion animals and 104/738 (14.1%) involved large animals. Male veterinarians were the subject of 855/1,218 (70.2%) complaints. Of the complaints that recorded the number of years the respondent had been registered, 488/1,121 (43.5%) involved veterinarians who had been registered ≥21 years. Thematic analysis identified client expectations as the one overarching theme, within which were four subthemes; a veterinarian would be trustworthy and honest, provide good quality care, communicate in a way that the client finds acceptable, and charge fairly.

Conclusions and clinical relevance: Notifications and complaints against male practitioners outnumbered those against female practitioners, and companion animal practitioners were over-represented. Many complaints that were ostensibly related to technical failures, were shown by thematic analysis to also represent underlying failures of professional behaviour. Key issues included lack of trustworthiness, honesty, good quality care and acceptable communication with the client. These data should not be interpreted as an accurate indicator of the prevalence of misconduct in practice, as the proportion of dissatisfied clients who did not raise a notification or complaint is unknown. Accurate classification of complaints will enable veterinary regulators and educators to identify competencies that could be developed or improved through training and experience.

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