Dental practices across Australia (78 per cent) are concerned about cost of living pressures and economic uncertainty holding back patient visits to the dentist in the next 12 months, according to the latest Dental Insights Report, by CommBank Health and the Australian Dental Association.

While 83 per cent of dentists anticipated further operating cost increases in 2024, the sector remains cautiously optimistic about conditions ahead and the outlook among practices indicates that conditions are set to improve with 41 per cent of dentists saying they are targeting a revenue increase.

Across all practices, 60 per cent are confident about current business conditions, with this sentiment in regional areas outstripping that of their metropolitan peers.

CommBank Health CEO, Albert Naffah said that dental practices are taking a front-footed approach to addressing ongoing sector challenges such as the affordability of healthcare and striving to create their own momentum to enhance performance.

"It really is encouraging that despite a difficult environment posed by elevated costs, our research shows dental practices are planning to take proactive action to drive growth over the coming months,” said Mr Naffah.

The research showed the top strategies dental practices plan to use to drive growth and acquire new patients are dedicating funding for marketing activity (81 per cent), investing in or upgrading clinical technologies (38 per cent) and extending practise opening hours to offer evening appointments after 5pm (64 per cent).

The other top-rated priority is adapting systems and processes to drive efficiency and productivity. This is underpinning interest in new applications for data analytics, where the most in-demand insights are in areas including external benchmarking (47 per cent), patient feedback (38 per cent) and practice operations (37 per cent).

Mr Naffah continued: "To boost demand and the patient experience, practices are mobilising multiple initiatives to help patients easily find, access, and pay for appointments. This is supported by a focus on enhancing equipment and premises, including investment in clinical technology.

"Streamlining systems and processes in search of internal efficiencies also remains a priority. This is likely contributing to a groundswell of interest in data-driven tools, including analytics and AI, to better understand and optimise practice performance.”

While the adoption of AI among practices is in its infancy, most would like to use it in all areas except initial consultations. Currently, appointment scheduling is the most widely used application (12 per cent).

In future, 70 per cent would like to use AI for patient education, 67 per cent for data analysis and intelligence and 63 per cent for diagnostic assistance and inventory management.

About the CommBank and Australian Dental Association (ADA) Dental Insights research

The 2024 Dental Insights Report is based on a quantitative online survey of 414 dental practices across Australia. The survey examined practices’ operational and financial performance, strategic priorities and outlook to inform benchmarking and planning activities among practice decision-makers. The study of dental practices was conducted between 27 October 2023 and 17 November 2023.

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