SwiftQ Dental Care plans to introduce low-cost dentistry to those Australians who can’t afford it. Will it solve the country’s oral healthcare crisis, or is it the end of neighbourhood dental practice as we know it? Shane Conroy reports
According to the National Oral Health Alliance, around seven million Australians delay or avoid dental treatment because they can’t afford it. That’s more than one in three Australians who are left to suffer in silence because they simply don’t have the funds to pay for essential oral healthcare.
When you consider that common, untreated dental diseases result in approximately 32,000 preventable hospitalisations every year, the fact that anyone on a lower than average income will likely go without basic dental care should be a national disgrace.
“The Australian dental industry simply can’t keep clinging to a business-as-usual approach,” says Michelle Aquilina, CEO of SwiftQ Dental Care. “It’s time to challenge the status quo with a new model that will make essential dental care affordable to as much of the community as possible.”
That’s the idea driving SwiftQ Dental Care. Owned by healthcare giant Healius Limited (formerly Primary Healthcare), the Fairfield-based practice is ruffling feathers with a new low-cost business model. It focuses on just five basic treatments—check-up and clean, pain relief, basic tooth extractions, fillings and take-home whitening—and provides each for a flat fee of $99.
“We’ve received an overwhelmingly positive response from patients,” says Aquilina. “We’ve treated some people who have been unable to access dental care for 12 months or more. At SwiftQ Dental there are no hidden fees or add-ons, and patients know how much the treatment is going to cost up front.”
High tech, low cost
It sounds like a dream come true for many cash-strapped Australians. But is delivering basic dental services for less than $100 really a sustainable business model? Aquilina believes it most certainly is. She says building the business model on a range of innovative workflow efficiencies enables the practice to operate at significantly lower cost than most traditional practices.
“I’ve spent 30 years in the dental industry and I understand the dynamics holistically. We dedicated two years to developing highly efficient workflows for the practice,” she says. “Patients can select their treatment and book online, and we’ve embraced digitisation with self-check-in technology when patients arrive at the practice.”
Following a self-check-in on arrival, a dental assistant welcomes the patient, walks them into the treatment room and introduces them to their dentist.
“Even with a digitised frontend journey, it still very much is a personalised experience,” says Aquilina. “We understand that Australians want to take control of their health and have become comfortable with technology, which has been adopted by a wide range of businesses. As leaders in the industry, we need to ensure that we are acutely aware of the signs of changing consumer behaviours, and how we can use technology to lift the patient experience.”
Aquilina has also streamlined the surgeries to be more efficient. “We have modern dental clinics with agile workflows,” she says. “Operational effectiveness is quite important for us, so we’ve ensured that the staff actually understand their position in the workflow and know exactly what needs to be done and when.”
Low cost doesn’t mean low standards, emphasises Aquilina. All SwiftQ practitioners are Australian qualified and must be registered with the Dental Board of Australia and the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency. They must also undertake at least 20 hours of continuing professional education per year, and all products, materials and equipment used in the practice are TGA approved. The practice is also accredited by Quality Innovation Performance (QIP) and follows the Australian Dental Association’s Guidelines for Infection Control.
The future is shared
After a successful launch in Fairfield, plans are underway for a national rollout of SwiftQ Dental Care clinics. That will no doubt have traditional higher-priced practices feeling a little nervous, but Aquilina insists that the SwiftQ model does not seek to cannibalise existing practices. Rather, she believes SwiftQ will grow the pie for all dental practitioners.
“The core of our model is about attracting patients who have been otherwise unable to afford dental treatment and empowering them to take ownership of their own oral health,” she explains. “That means we’ll be growing the patient base—we’ll essentially be creating new patients and will absolutely be injecting growth into the industry.
“As our focus is solely on providing those five basic treatments, we refer patients who need more complex treatments onto other practices in the area.”
This could present an opportunity for competing practices to refocus on providing more complex, higher-value treatments. And while Aquilina points out that the scale does not yet exist to create an extensive referral network, she certainly sees an opportunity to collaborate with other dental practices now and in the future.
“As we expand into new regions, we definitely want to give our patients the opportunity to seek further dentistry at other local practices,” she says. “Viewing other businesses as competitors alone is a thing of the past. Our world has evolved so much that if we are to thrive and facilitate growth and innovation, we need to welcome greater collaboration. I’m a strong believer in working with as many dental practitioners as possible to deliver better patient outcomes. I certainly welcome any interested practice owners to reach out to us, so we can discuss how we might be able to collaborate.
“If this industry is going to make dental care affordable for all Australians, we’re going to need to work together to change the status quo.”