Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Cost savings from a teledentistry model for school dental screening: an Australian health system perspective

Mohamed Estai A D , Stuart Bunt B , Yogesan Kanagasingam C and Marc Tennant A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A International Research Collaborative – Oral Health and Equity, School of Human Sciences, University of Western Australia (M309), 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia. Email: marc.tennant@uwa.edu.au

B Department of Anatomy and Human Biology, School of Human Sciences, University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA6009, Australia. Email: stuart.bunt@uwa.edu.au

C Australian e-Health Research Centre, CSIRO, Butterfield Street and Bowen Bridge Road, Herston, Qld 4029, Australia. Email: Yogi.Kanagasingam@csiro.au

D Corresponding author. Email: abdalla177@gmail.com

Australian Health Review - https://doi.org/10.1071/AH16119
Submitted: 7 June 2016  Accepted: 6 April 2017   Published online: 5 June 2017

Abstract

Objective The aim of the present study was to compare the costs of teledentistry and traditional dental screening approaches in Australian school children.

Methods A cost-minimisation analysis was performed from the perspective of the oral health system, comparing the cost of dental screening in school children using a traditional visual examination approach with the cost of mid-level dental practitioners (MLDPs), such as dental therapists, screening the same cohort of children remotely using teledentistry. A model was developed to simulate the costs (over a 12-month period) of the two models of dental screening for all school children (2.7 million children) aged 5–14 years across all Australian states and territories. The fixed costs and the variable costs, including staff salary, travel and accommodation costs, and cost of supply were calculated. All costs are given in Australian dollars.

Results The total estimated cost of the teledentistry model was $50 million. The fixed cost of teledentistry was $1 million and that of staff salaries (tele-assistants, charters and their supervisors, as well as information technology support was estimated to be $49 million. The estimated staff salary saved with the teledentistry model was $56 million, and the estimated travel allowance and supply expenses avoided were $16 million and $14 million respectively; an annual reduction of $85 million in total.

Conclusions The present study shows that the teledentistry model of dental screening can minimise costs. The estimated savings were due primarily to the low salaries of dental therapists and the avoidance of travel and accommodation costs. Such savings could be redistributed to improve infrastructure and oral health services in rural or other underserved areas.

What is known about the topic? Caries is a preventable disease, which, if it remains untreated, can cause significant morbidity requiring costly treatment. Regular dental screening and oral health education have the great potential to improve oral health and save significant resources. The use of role substitution, such as using MLDPs to provide oral care has been well acknowledged worldwide because of their ability to provide safe and effective care. The teledentistry approach for dental screening offers a comparable diagnostic performance to the traditional visual approach.

What does this paper add? The results of the present study suggest that teledentistry is a practical and economically viable approach for mass dental screening not only for isolated communities, but also for underserved urban communities. The costs of the teledentistry model were substantially lower than the costs associated with a conventional, face-to-face approach to dental screening in both remote and urban areas. The primary driver of net savings is the low salary of MLDPs and avoidance of travel and overnight accommodation by MLDPs.

What are the implications for practitioners? The use of lower-cost MLDPs and a teledentistry model for dental screening has the potential to save significant economic and human resources that can be redirected to improve infrastructure and oral care services in underserved regions. In the absence of evidence of the economic usefulness of teledentistry, studies such as the present one can increase the acceptance of this technology among dental care providers and guide future decisions on whether or not to implement teledentistry services.

Additional keywords: caries, children, cost-analysis, smartphone.


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