The online deal-maker Groupon has extended its reach to local cosmetic doctors’ offices, offering discounts for patients and creating quandaries for plastic surgeons and dermatologists.
Some physicians embrace Groupon as a useful tool for drumming up business. Others spurn it as financially or ethically flawed.
Medical offices using Groupon have offered discounts on services including Botox injections, laser hair removal, liposuction, cellulite treatments, and photofacials.
Groupon’s potential for patients and doctors can be seen in the deal that CosmetiCare medical centers in Newport Beach and Long Beach offered last month through Groupon, advertising a price of $125 for six laser hair-removal treatments worth “up to $900.” When that package of treatments was offered on Jan. 26, a total of 1,164 people bought it.
For their $125, those consumers got vouchers valid for six treatments during three office visits starting by July 27.
Financially, the deal can be much better for the patient than for the doctor, said plastic surgeon Dr. Edward Domanskis of Newport Beach, who investigated Groupon and decided against signing up.
Groupon requires that sellers cut their regular price by about 50 percent and pay Groupon a hefty portion of their revenues collected through their deal. Domanskis concluded that if he offered a Groupon deal on breast enlargements, for which he regularly charges $5,000, he would lose $500 on each operation.
Like a number of retailers before them, some doctors have decided against offering a Groupon deal that would attract large numbers of new, temporary customers because they would lose money on each customer.
Still, Groupon allows a doctor to reach a large new clientele with little effort, said plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Niccole of CosmetiCare.
If a medical office offers a Groupon deal, Niccole said, it “must be very well prepared for the volume or they risk losing a relationship with Groupon and more importantly creating a horrible experience with the new patients that the office is seeking to reach.” the result would be “a horrible online rap in blogs, forums and directories such as Yelp, RateMD’s, etc.,” he said.
Dr. David Sire uses a skin-treatment laser
Groupon deals are advertised by email for one day and are valid for a short period of time, which means that patients buying a cosmetic doctor’s services are under time pressure to decide whether to undergo a medical procedure. Potential patients may also be pressured by acquaintances, because Groupon deals are withdrawn if not enough people sign up.
“If one person’s discount for a procedure is based on another person undergoing a procedure also, then there may be inappropriate pressure or influence to have a procedure performed,” plastic surgeon Dr. Karol Gutowski wrote on the RealSelf.com cosmetic medicine website.
In addition, dermatologist Dr. Ronald Shelton of new York said on that website, “having a coupon may create subconscious pressures to agree on having a procedure.”
“the problem with coupons that are purchased prior to use is that it is a promise, or at least an implied promise, that the coupon has value because the service or goods have been pre-purchased. this is not appropriate for cosmetic surgery since you must have a formal consultation and examination prior to determining if you are even a candidate for surgery,” plastic surgeon Dr. Robin Yuan of Beverly Hills said on RealSelf.com.
“If you needed open heart surgery, or neurosurgery – would you be looking for the lowest bidder? no, you would be looking for the best, most qualified surgeon and the best hospital around. Plastic surgery, including liposuction, is no different,” wrote plastic surgeon Dr. Thomas Fiala of Orlando, Fla.
“It is a good deal for consumers, but for the surgical services and most of the non-surgical services that I offer, it really does not work,” said plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Persky of Encino. “we would only use it for aesthetician services such as facials or laser hair removal. we would not use it for my physician services, as my services are not a commodity.”
Dermatologic surgeon Dr. David Sire of Fullerton said he experimented with Groupon and was pleased with the results.
“we did offer discounted IPL [intense pulsed light] treatments on Groupon to gauge whether or not it had a place in our practice. we had a good response and the treatments are paid for in advance so there is no pressure on the staff or the patient,” he said.
“we had hoped that they would see our practice and perhaps return again for another service. we did not try to ‘up sell’ or create any pressures on the patients to purchase anything else. we see it as a way to make others aware of our practice who would normally not know us,” Sire said.
(Disclosure: Groupon is a competitor of this publication, both for online advertising in general and in particular for the Register’s “Deal of the Day.”)
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