Dentistry is not what it used to be (I am saddened to say)

Dentistry is not what it used to be (I am saddened to say)

An article in the Sun-Herald newspaper today highlights the problems that are introduced when professional standard are diminished in the worship of ‘competition’. Alas bodies like the ACCC think that the historical restrictions on advertising and professional behaviour that ruled dentistry in particular were anti-competitive. In my humble opinion they are completely wrong and the behaviour I have seen since relaxation of the rules is evidence that the changes have been a complete disaster.

for instance did you know that ‘puffery’ (definition: exaggerated or false praise) is allowed in healthcare advertising now? That is a dentist can say in their advertising ‘the best implant dentist in town’ or something like that and it is considered acceptable to do that because a reasonable person will know that the claim is so inflated as to clearly not be true. WHAT!!!!!! Forgive me but that is madness and should be stopped ASAP. Why? Because a great many people in Australia, quite rightly, believe that healthcare providers should be held to high ethical standards and their communication with the public should be professional and truthful. What insanity has overcome the regulators to think that patently untrue advertising is acceptable for doctors and dentists? It makes my blood boil.

For me one rule of choosing a dentist remains true: the more aggressively they advertise the faster you should run in the other direction. What does that mean? If they need to spend tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars a year on advertising to fill their appointment books while others (like me) don’t spend anything then I believe there is a reason. What might that be? I will let you ponder on that.

I would like to put an alternate way of finding a new dentist or Denal specialist: ask your family, friends and work colleagues who they see and trust. Word of mouth is king. Reputations that are built over decades of service and contribution to the local community. That is how to choose a healthcare provider, not the insanity allowed by regulators who think it is a good idea to allow ‘puffery’.

Further to the problems with advertising are the issues highlighted in the newspaper article. The reforms imposed on my profession by the government regulators included allowing for profit corporate entities to own dental surgeries and employ dentists. Some corporates (I have to be careful what I say here, so let’s say ‘potential’) impose hefty KPI’s on those dentists. What does that mean in English? The dentists have to meet monthly turnover targets or face financial penalties. What the hell!! In healthcare?? That is crazy. I can only believe that the government regulators must rely on the regulations on registered healthcare workers to comply with their requirements to act in their patients best interests, however I must ask the question: will the economic pressures the corporate employer put those dentists put them in an untenable position? I don’t envy them being torn between two masters.

Consider the case presented in the newspaper article: A young man who has taken pride in his oral health wen to a new dentist and was told by the corporate employed dentist he needed $1,200 worth of dental fillings.  That may have been true, I have not seen the x-rays. However he sought a second opinion from another dentist who stated he needed $60 worth of treatment. I find this very disturbing. The Dental Council of NSW, AHPRA or the Dental Board of Australia I believe must investigate this case as a priority because of the serious questions it asks about the integrity of the dental industry. The confidence the Australian public can have in dentists has been undermined and it is essential that the public can take confidence in their belief that all dentists are acting first and foremost in their best interests and not (the alleged) best interests of their corporate employer.

Two things really jump out at me from recent changes in healthcare: No corporate entity should be allowed to employ dentists, full stop. Only dentists should be allowed to employ dentists (as it was for many, many years). Secondly health funds in particular must be prevented from owning clinics through so called vertical integration. As we have seen from the recent royal Commission this has had disastrous implications in the banking world and I believe it will have similarly disastrous outcomes for dentistry.

God save us from well intentioned regulators.