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Doctors and Coupons

Groupon.com is a cool website to checkout when looking for a deal on all sorts of things from food to vacations.  I’ve perused the Groupon.com site many of times looking at the various coupons, some of which are actually really good.  While browsing, I could not help but notice the many discounts for laser hair removal, dentist visits, doctor visits, and so on.  The prices seem amazing – just yesterday I say a dentist offering $410 worth of services for $29!  I can only imagine that for the many people out there with no insurance, deals like these must seem sent from heaven.

There may be a problem with such discounts, however.  I read an article in Sun Sentinel online that such discounts for medical treatments may be illegal.  Florida and federal laws, for instance, are strict in regards to the splitting of fees and giving of kickbacks in return for receiving new patients.  Hence the potential problem with Groupon.com and other such sites.  Since the site receives a portion of the sales, it could be viewed in such a light.  (As a side note, if this is a problem, wouldn’t advertising in newspapers and commercials pose a similar issue?)

After reading this article, I couldn’t help but be reminded of an old King of Queens episode in which Doug got Carrie eye laser surgery for her birthday.  The problem was that he used a doctor with a coupon that was buy 1 get half off of the second eye.  Needless to say, there were issues after Carrie’s surgery and they had to go to a better physician to get her problem corrected.

Back in the day it seemed that going to a place that used coupons, especially a physician, was almost akin to going across the border to Mexico to get a surgery done.  The physician was probably not that good of a physician and you were putting yourself at risk.  It’s like comparing the Four Seasons to Burger King – the Four Seasons doesn’t need coupons because the product they dish out (no pun intended) is of better quality then that of Burger King.  In addition, the use of coupons is usually best left for those who desperately need customers and this usually goes back to the quality of their work.  So the argument can go that a physician should be great at his work and, therefore, would not need any coupons to draw in new patients.

However, there is another side to this story.  We do live in a very difficult economic time in which every sector has been affected, including physicians.  The high unemployment rate correlates, in part, to the great number of those uninsured.  These uninsured individuals are not going to go see the doctor unless it is an emergency.  Therefore, doctors have fewer patients which mean they make less money.  While many may not be hurting financially as most people, the private practitioner, for instance, still needs funds to run his business.  And if he is forced to close down, that is one less physician practicing in the community.  A vicious cycle.

So the question remains – should doctors try to recruit new patients using coupons?

 

 

Here’s the link to the full article: http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2011-09-25/health/fl-hk-groupon-medical-20110925_1_couptessa-websites-discounts

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About happilycb

I'm a general surgery resident and mother to a seven, going on 30, year old daughter.

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