The Irish Dental Association publishes a survey raising doubts on medical tourism

The Irish Dental Association is the most recent medical professionals body to publish a “survey” raising doubts about medical tourism.

The Irish Dental Association is the most recent medical professionals body to publish a “survey” raising doubts about medical tourism.
In a recent press release from the Irish Dental Association, they state that “3 out of every 4 Irish dentists are treating patients for problems arising from treatment abroad. Let’s take a look at the background to the survey, and examine some of the real concerns that are raised.
The Consumers’ Association of Ireland has published research about the high costs of dental treatment in Ireland. The Irish Dental Association accepts that Irish dentists are not immune from the wider economy and the bottom line is that Ireland is a high-cost economy. As a result, significant numbers of Irish dental patients travel for treatment to minimise treatment costs. Some of these are cross border dental tourists. Many services carried out in Northern Ireland are between 25% and 45% cheaper than the same services in the Republic, according to the study published in the Consumers’ Association of Ireland’s magazine Consumer Choice. And of course, many Irish patients take advantage of low cost treatment in countries such as Hungary and Poland. Several Budapest dental treatment providers have offices or representatives in the Republic of Ireland.
According to the Irish Dental Association survey, 76% of Irish dentists in private practice [more than 3 out of 4] have had to treat patients for problems linked to the dental treatment they received abroad.
First, we need to examine the basis of this claim.

  • There are approximately 1,700 dentists in private practice in Ireland at present.
  • 440 Irish dentists responded to the survey.
  • 334 said that they are treating problems arising from treatment overseas.
  • So…. in fact 334 out of 1,700 said that they were seeing problems which is 20%. Obviously, this assumes that those who didn’t bother are not seeing problems.

When reviewing such surveys conducted by on or on behalf of professional associations, we have to bear the following in mind:

  • Inbuilt sample bias: People who see a problem are more likely to respond to a survey on that issue, than those who don’t. We’ve seen similar bias built into surveys conducted by a PR agency in behalf of the British Association of Plastic Surgeons.
  • Motivation: We always need to remember that professional associations represent the interests of their members. Losing patients to Belfast or Budapest hits the pockets of private dentists.

Nevertheless….. the Irish Dental Association has made some valid points. Are there concerns for dental patients who travel for treatment? Yes. Are the problems as big as the Irish Dental Association suggests. No.
At the end of the day, the Irish Dental Association also has the best interests of Irish dental patients at heart. Dr Donal Blackwell of the Irish Dental Association says that that one of the problems is that when considering travelling abroad for dental treatment, patients tended to focus on short term, aesthetic results rather than the long term quality of the care they receive and suggests that people travelling abroad for dental treatment actually don’t know what they need when they enquire about costs. He’s certainly right in some cases.
So, what’s the solution and what’s in the best interests of dentists and patients?
I’d like to see the following:

  1. The Irish Dental Association issuing guidance for dentists and patients when considering dental tourism. See the UK General Dental Council’s Dental Tourism Checklist on Treatment Abroad.
  2. Irish dentists providing assessment and follow up of patients who travel abroad for treatment.
  3. Irish dentists visiting some overseas dentists to get an understanding of how they work and their clinical skills and quality.
  4. Irish dentists forming partnerships with overseas dentists, so that patients who need extensive treatment but can’t afford Irish treatment have access to the treatment they need under the supervision of their own dentist.
  5. Overseas dentists communicating with the patient’s Irish dentist when a patient turns up in Budapest or Krakow – informing the patient’s Irish dentist what work is to be undertaken, and providing post treatment reports on the work that has been carried out.

Common sense really. So, let’s work together!