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31 May 2015 | Australasian Dental Practice

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BOQ Specialist reveals changing face of Australia’s healthcare professionals

Workforce Finance Practice Management

Professional services banking provider BOQ Specialist has released a benchmark report, Specialists Serving Specialists, that for the first time compares the working environment, opportunities and challenges of Australia's 100,000-strong medical, dental and veterinary professions.

The report reveals the changing demographics of Australia's most influential healthcare professionals and identifies distinct and differing trends across each.

The BOQ Specialist team has over 20 years of experience developing and offering tailored financial services to Australia's professional sector. CEO of BOQ Specialist, Barry Lanesman, said health professionals such as doctors, dentists and vets played an important role in the community – and would become even more important due to demographic changes and rising expenditure on healthcare.

"BOQ Specialist released this report to provide specialists with a resource to further understand how they compare to colleagues as well as to other like-minded professionals and how the existing economic conditions or changing landscape may impact their business if it has not already done so," Dr Lanesman said.

Different profession, different challenges

As well as the years of vocational training that they all need, the three groups of specialists have a number of features in common: they all earn relatively high incomes; increasing numbers of specialists are women; over one third of each group are over 50 years of age.

However, it is the differences that are even more noteworthy.

Doctors can expect demand for their services to rise, driven largely by the growth and ageing of Australia's population. New treatments and the establishments of large clinics by medical entrepreneurs mean that productivity and efficiency is improving. However, at the same time, doctors are increasingly having to deal with the impact of new technology, rapidly changing how they both treat and interact with patients and the increasing corporatisation of medicine.

By contrast, dentists face an income squeeze. The surge in the number of dental graduates and migration of dentists to Australia from overseas, means that the cost of dentistry - to the patient - is coming down. In contrast, the cost of setting up a dental practice has roughly doubled over the last decade.

"There is an element of discretionary spending on dental services which does not exist with medical or vet services. The dentists' practices can suffer when the economy slows," Dr Lanesman said.

The issues for vets are different again. Vets have moved from being mainly providers of care to sick and injured animals to being suppliers of comprehensive pet care solutions. Their clinics often include stylish retail areas, offering pet food, leads/collars and pet toys. Many vets are thinking about branding and marketing.

Meanwhile, 60% of vets are women (and the number is higher for younger vets): many of them are looking to work part time as they balance work and family commitments.

"While facing different challenges, one common thread among all specialists is the unique financial needs compared to other people," Mr Lanesman said. "Often specialists only start to earn good money when they are in their 30s, however the cost setting up a practice and getting themselves set up personally mean they often have to take on substantial debts. Managing cash flow to reduce and service these debts over the long term requires detailed attention."

Doctors - facing disruptive change from technology and corporatisation

  • Australia has about 44,000 GPs and around 25,000 specialists;
  • The government expects that the number of medical graduates will remain at around 3,000 annually over the next few years, meaning immigration will remain the key avenue for increasing the number of trained doctors in Australia;
  • There is an increasing corporatisation of the medical profession. For example, 10 years ago, most optometrists owned lucrative private practices; today, most are salaried employees (earning less) working for companies like OPSM; and
  • Technology is dramatically changing the ways in which patients are treated and how doctors work - reducing recovering time and increasing efficiency. It also is impacting how we access health services. Instances of doctors treating patients via Internet or video jumped from under 2,000 in the September 2011 quarter to over 25,000 in March 2014.

Dentists - dealing with rising costs and lower fees

  • Australia has about 21,000 dentists;
  • There are more students studying dentistry than demand requires, with the number of dental students in Australian universities soaring from just over 2,000 in 2007 to over 3,700 in 2012; and
  • One study of dentists aged over 50 found that almost two-thirds planned to work past age 65 years.

Vets - becoming retailers with part-time workforces

  • Australia has about 10,500 vets;
  • Vets are becoming increasingly commercial, moving beyond being only providers of care to sick and injured animals to becoming stylish retailers offering pet food, leads/collars and pet toys;
  • Of all vets, 60% are female; of vets aged 20-30, 84% are female; and
  • Among vets aged between 31 and 50, male vets work 11 hours more per week, on average, than female vets who tend to work part time.
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