Dental practitioner concepts of efficiency related to the use of dental therapists


Rebecca Harris, Department of Health Services Research, Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, Liverpool University School of Dentistry, Room 113, Block B, Waterhouse Building, Liverpool L69 3GL, UK, Tel.: +151 795 5334


Harris RV, Sun N. Dental practitioner concepts of efficiency related to the use of dental therapists. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol 2012. © 2012 John Wiley & Sons A/S

Abstract –  Objectives:  Efficiency is concerned with producing maximum output with the minimum input, although what constitutes inputs and outputs within an organization is not always clear. Labour substitution is one method of achieving efficiency gains, although cost savings are found to be context dependent and may not be achieved in some situations. Because dental therapists (DTs) in England are permitted to work in dental practices, we set out to investigate how efficiency with respect to the use of DTs is conceptualized by practitioners to deepen our understanding of the potential for substitution to realize efficiency gains in dental practice.

Methods:  Nine dental practices were selected using a purposive sampling methodology to give a range of practice size and DT employment arrangements. Semi-structured interviews were held with 26 dentists. Transcripts were coded and analysed thematically.

Results:  Efficiency was perceived as optimum use of surgery time to generate intermediate outputs of (i) managing patient flow to give patient satisfaction and business cash flow and (ii) volume of work (procedures and numbers of patients). DT efficiency gains were evaluated according to whether lower labour costs were offset by a slower working pace and higher rate of failed appointments. Patient need and demand, and whether the practice had health improvement goals, influenced whether DTs were deemed to improve efficiency.

Conclusions:  Findings are in accord with skill mix reviews in wider health care that substitution may be effective in improving efficiency but this may be limited to particular situations where conditions are conducive. More studies are needed to explore these issues further in other dental practice contexts and with other groups of dental auxiliary.