Dentistry can be delivered through a number of different channels. The main areas currently are government dental clinics, health fund clinics, health-fund contracted private practices, corporate-owned practices and privately owned practices.
Government clinics are currently restricted to low income earners and are generally characterised by extensive waiting lists and the most basic treatment choices.
Health fund clinics are run by health insurers as a way of providing dental services to their clients more cost efficiently. Health insurers have a lot more control of outcomes and services performed if they are provided by their own employed dentists, which would suit them by removing the unknowns that confront them when patients make claims from providers outside of their organisations.
Private practices which are contracted to health funds (‘Preferred Providers’ or ‘Member’s Choice’ for example) have signed agreements to provide services within certain boundaries and at certain fees. In return for this, health funds directly refer their members to these practices. They may be regarded in a sense as outsourced health fund clinics. Preferred providers are not selected based on clinical criteria but rather on their willingness to participate within certain rules set by the insurer in question.
Corporate-owned practices have become more prevalent over the last 7-8 years. Corporates recognised dental practices as safe investments and continue to actively consolidate practices for the benefit of shareholders. There is often no evidence that a practice is corporate owned as they see the importance of maintaining the appearance of a private practice. Dentists usually receive a purchase price that far exceeds what would be available outside of corporate offers, and in return they sign a 5-year agreement which involves maintaining agreed profit targets.
Private practices are usually owned by dentists and may be run via a number of different models. At one end, there is the low fee, low overhead, high turnover approach. Preferred providers and practices that advertise ‘no gaps’ often fall into this category. At the other end are practices that choose to invest in a higher staff to patient ratio, the best available materials and the latest technology to support dentistry that can be delivered faster, better and more safely. Most private practices fit somewhere between these two extremes.
The correct choice of dental provider varies and, like many things, comes down to many factors of individual preference such as trust, convenience and perceived value.