Graphic: RFDS Mobile Dental Service

RFDS bridges gap for rural dental care

Date published

08 Apr 2021

A new study has revealed the RFDS Dental Service produced more than $15 million of economic and social benefits for Queensland patients between 2013 and 2019, reconfirming the immense value of the RFDS Dental Service to the community and broader health system.

From 2013 to 2019, the service provided 76,637 treatments to patients living in 24 rural and remote communities across the state.

The study, which examined service benefits over a six-year period, was jointly commissioned by the RFDS (Queensland Section) and founding partner of the dental service, QCoal Foundation, and conducted by leading advisory firm BDO Australia.

RFDS (Queensland Section) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Meredith Staib said the study reconfirmed the immense value of the RFDS Dental Service to the community and broader health system.

“For those living and working in rural and remote communities, access to dental services is often difficult and costly, requiring long-distance travel and time away from home and potentially work. 

These barriers can lead to a decline in oral health in rural and remote areas,” she said.

“The RFDS Dental Service was established in 2013 to bridge the gap for those areas with limited or no access to dental services.

“The study found that for every $1 spent on the RFDS Dental Service it has produced $1.80 of economic and social benefits for Queensland in quantifiable benefits alone.”

QCoal Foundation CEO Sylvia Bhatia said the report, commissioned to commemorate 10 years of partnership between QCoal and the RFDS, supported the anecdotal evidence both partners had received over the years from patients, healthcare professionals and local governments who sought service delivery for their communities.

“Through this project we have been able to understand how our support has amplified social and economic outcomes for the community,” Ms Bhatia said.

“Developed to look beyond the high-level statistics around patient numbers, treatments and procedures, the report highlights the very real community benefits — economic and social — that stem from oral healthcare delivered by the RFDS Dental Service.“

For the Foundation, it also supports our social venture approach and the value that can be delivered by effective and long-term government, not-for-profit and philanthropic partnerships.

“We remain proud of the RFDS Dental Service’s outcomes and hope this report will become a benchmark for our future collaborations and for others in the philanthropic sector.”

RFDS (Queensland Section) CEO Meredith Staib

Ms Staib said 71 per cent of study respondents indicated that RFDS was their first-choice primary dental provider.

“I was especially proud to read the commentary from patients around the professionalism of the service and staff,” she said.

One patient comment read: “I hadn’t been to a dentist in years because I had received terrible treatment. These people were so kind to me. I was very overwhelmed by their manner and kindness.”

Ms Staib said the wide-ranging benefits of the RFDS Dental Service were also proven within the study to extend beyond the community, to government and the broader health system.

“Oral health is closely connected to overall health. The improved oral health conditions of the communities visited can therefore be expected to contribute to potential reductions in the associated cost burden to the broader health system,” she said.

“For example, the lack of preventative healthcare and delays in treatment can increase the pressure on general practices, emergency departments and hospitals.

“Avoided GP and hospitalisation costs alone were estimated to total more than $800,000 over the review period. Avoided productivity loss can also be expected as poor oral health impacts individuals’ productivity by reducing their ability to work, study and undertake their required functions.”

Founding Partner QCoal Group

The Flying Doctor acknowledges the support of the QCoal Group, QCoal Foundation and the Australian Government in establishing the dental service in 2013.