The Cost of Complaints: A Legal Insight into Common Client Concerns About their Cosmetic Clinics

plastic-surgeryIt is well known that bad news travels faster than good. As a general rule, a person is likely to tell twice as many people about a bad experience as a good one. Given that the number of cosmetic surgery providers in the UK is increasing year on year, there is rising pressure on clinics to deliver excellent service resulting in happy customers who will pass on their positive experience.

Irwin Mitchell has a specialised team dealing specifically with cosmetic surgery claims in the UK and abroad. The team received almost 300 enquiries during 2014 and there has been an increasing trend in patients contacting us who are dissatisfied with the service they have received from their clinic. Many of these complaints relate not only to the treatment itself, but also to the way the clinic or hospital has handled their complaint. Many of the enquiries we investigate could have been avoided if the clinic had addressed the patient’s concerns adequately at the outset.

So what are the primary complaints we hear in relation to customer service and how can these be remedied? Listed below are some of the most common problems we hear from our clients:

  1. I have not received a response to my complaint
    One of the most common complaints we receive from patients is that their provider did not respond. If a patient feels let down by their clinician or they are concerned about their health, as little as 24 hours can be long enough for a patient to seek legal redress.
    Ensure adequate procedures to deal with complaints are in place, no matter what format they are received in. Ideally, create specific complaints contact details to channel where the complaints are received and ensure that there are adequate personnel who are trained to manage these efficiently. Even where there are dedicated channels for complaints, it is not unusual for a patient to directly contact their surgeon or a known member of staff. It is therefore imperative that all staff are aware of the procedure for handling complaints to ensure that they are dealt with without delay.
  2. I was told my procedure was successful and offered no further advice
    Patients may submit a complaint for any number of reasons. However, if their complaint relates to the treatment itself or aftercare, the contemplation of litigation should always be borne in mind.
    It is wise, where possible, to arrange for the patient to speak with their surgeon to put their mind at ease. Patients who have recently undergone cosmetic procedures often feel vulnerable and some simple re-assurance and advice in relation to recovery and aftercare is often all that is needed. In the event that complications have arisen, offering to rectify the problem promptly with no cost to the patient is the best way to avoid the problem escalating into litigation. Many claims would not have progressed had the symptoms been investigated and the appropriate treatment administered within a reasonable time-frame.
  3. I was told that my symptoms were a recognised risk and told to read my consent formWhere complications develop post-surgery, the first port of call for patients is often to contact their clinic. An increasing number of patients complain that they were not told or did not fully understand the risks involved in undergoing the procedure and have been unhappy with the outcome as a result.Solution:
    A thorough consultation at the outset and a consent form is vital to ensure that patients are fully aware of the risks involved and have seriously considered the implications of the procedure. It is preferable to conduct a face to face consultation with the patient where possible, or, at the very least, a telephone consultation. This benefits not only the patient but also the clinic as potential patients who may not be emotionally prepared for the procedure can be advised accordingly and potentially high-risk candidates can be managed appropriately. In such circumstances, referring the patient for pre-operative counseling is advisable to ensure that all steps have been taken by the practitioner to prepare the patient thoroughly.
  4. I was told that my symptoms were a normal part of the healing processMany patients complain that they were not properly advised about aftercare following the procedure and they did not know the signs of complications.Solution:
    As with pre-procedure, a thorough post-operative consultation with the patient can save practitioners considerable headache from patients who are confused or concerned about their symptoms. A general checklist of normal signs of recovery plus a patient-specific consultation will go a long way towards reducing the number of complaints received.

The above is not an exhaustive list and there are, of course, cases where the complaints procedure, no matter how thorough, cannot provide a satisfactory remedy for the patient and they will resort to legal action. However, if a complaint can be managed appropriately by the clinic, any negative conceptions that the patient had about the procedure or clinic can often be rectified and the patient ultimately pleased with the outcome.
The key strategies to take from this article can be summarised as follows:

  • Implement a complaints procedure with dedicated contact details and personnel who are trained in dealing with complaints;
  • Ensure that all personnel are aware of the procedure and any complaints are appropriately referred and responded to within 24 hours;
  • Conduct thorough consultations with all patients, both pre and post treatment, ensuring they are fully aware of the risks involved and emotionally prepared for the procedure and after effects;
  • If the patient has concerns about the procedure or aftercare, arrange for the patient to speak with their practitioner, where possible, to put their mind at ease.

Cosmetic surgery claims are on the increase but thorough patient risk assessments and robust complaints procedures will ensure that simple complaints which are straight forward to resolve do not result in legal action and unnecessary bad publicity.

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