Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for quite some time, you’re aware of the new face of couponing: deal-of-the-day sites like Groupon and Living Social. Sign up with your email address and zip code, and you’ll receive information about special offers from restaurants, spas, retailers–and yes, even dentists. Like the deal? You buy it upfront and use your coupon at the time of service. With their smart phone compatibility and loyal twenty-something user base, sites like Groupon and Living Social aren’t exactly your mom’s Sunday morning coupon-clipping ritual. And the trend isn’t just for retailers–many medical practices are offering up discounts on expensive procedures, hoping to reach a new patient base.
As of November 2011, around 9 percent of all offers on daily deal websites were for dental work or some kind of medical treatment, up 4.5 percent from the beginning of 2011, according to Dan Hess, CEO of Local Offer Network. Why the spike? It could be something to do with the 46.3 million Americans under the age of 65 with no health coverage. People are looking for deals and discounts when shopping around for healthcare, and “couponing” is one way to do it.
A word of warning to patients looking for that half price teeth cleaning? Do your own research before buying a medical or dental deal. Read reviews and ask around before blindly purchasing a medical service from someone you’ve never visited. In a CBSNews article from December 2011 entitled Uninsured Turn to Groupon for Health Care, consumers are reminded that jumping from one healthcare provider to the next makes it harder to monitor how their health is progressing.
And to all of the clinic owners wondering if Groupon is as good of a deal for them as it is for patients? The consensus is a bit murky. Some doctors claim that they’ve reached a whole new demographic who otherwise may not have found them. After all, patients under 30 are the most likely to share their experiences with others, by way of their own social networking or on review sites like Yelp. If they buy a coupon and publicly rate your services, you have some free marketing on your hands.
But be wary of laws surrounding fee splitting arrangements with a third party. Adam Banks goes into detail on a KevinMD.com blog post from last September. Why doctors should be careful with Groupon and other social coupons is a must read for anyone thinking of offering medical services via deal-of-the-day outfits. Even if you’re offering elective cash-based procedures, it’s important to fully understand the laws in your state.
Laws aside, many think that Groupon can dilute a small business’s brand. “By offering your products or services at such steep discounts, you are implicitly saying that your company is willing to be flexible–very flexible–with the value you place on your products or services,” writes Ilie Mitaru in the scathing Why Groupon Sucks for Small Businesses. While Mitaru’s examples point to retail and service-based deals, most lessons can be applied to anyone offering discounts–even physicians.
Have you had an experience–good, bad or indifferent–with medical deals through Groupon or Living Social? Tell us about it.