Discount shoppers routinely scour the Internet's daily deal sites for the best bargains. Groupon and LivingSocial, leaders in the field, offer cut-price deals by location on everything from restaurant meals to tire purchases. Increasingly, those deals are expanding to health care — and not just to products and spa services, but to root canals and physicals too.
One recent marketing survey revealed that health-related services account for more than 10 percent of deals offered by such sites on any given day. Local providers are finding that it's more than just a way to get people through the door — it can also help establish a marketing plan. And for consumers without insurance it can be a bargain way to receive both necessary and elective care.
Naturopath Erica Steele, who owns Essential Wellness Center in Virginia Beach, credits Groupon with building her business, an "alternative medicine primary care facility." She specializes in strengthening patients' immune systems, with a concentration on digestive issues. She has opted out of insurance. "I have a very personal relationship with my patients. Insurance pits the provider against the patient," she says, noting the personal nature of the information she files. Six months ago she went to a flat-fee system, like a concierge practice, in which patients pay $125 a month for unlimited visits.
Steele did her first outreach through Groupon in June 2010, when her business was a year old. It was for a body wrap detox treatment. "In less than 24 hours, we sold 600," she says. "I went from barely surviving to growing overnight.
Robert Dreelin, a Hampton dentist in practice for almost three decades, just ran his first Groupon special. After consulting with his staff, he offered three cut-price offers: a new patient exam with cleaning, fluoride treatment and bite-wing X-rays for $49 (usually $295); the same, plus a whitening kit for $99; and a whitening kit by itself for half price. The deals, good for six months, ran from a Sunday to Wednesday.
He set the prices using Groupon's data that shows which price points are effective and sell well. "The $49 had really good numbers," says office administrator Dina Ringgold. Within a couple of days, Dreelin's office had scheduled 13 new patients. "We hope to attract them as established long-term patients," she says.
Dreelin, who was familiar with Groupon through his chiropractor, couldn't believe the response. "I like the quality of patients. They come from all layers of society. We hope they will have dental work and we'll end up doing it for them," he says. The recession, he adds, has affected those seeking elective and cosmetic dentistry — "it has dropped off the radar" — but not day-to-day dental practice for those with insurance.
However, some, like John Kasley, a Williamsburg retiree, have dropped their dental insurance as premiums soared. Currently healthy, Kasley says he would seriously consider using such deals for health services.
Autumn Barnes of Hampton, is more skeptical. "I'm sorry — medical, dental, body alteration companies that opt to blast out bulk coupons via Groupon, etc. to bulk up their clientele numbers, unless they are brand new, make me wonder why they aren't getting in new clients via word of mouth." That said, she acknowledges that her husband bought himself a massage through a daily deal site one time.
Prior to signing with Groupon, Steele spent hours out of the office to promote her business. "This brings them to you," she says. "It's low-risk. It has the numbers. I never lose money on them." She offers deals once a quarter and keeps copious records — on the number sold, the number redeemed, those who upgraded and the retention rate, between 10 and 20 percent.
"It's very viable for medical practices. It has to be something people want," she says. Additionally, it gave her so much demographic information — gender, age, ZIP code — that she relocated her office to be closer to her clientele.
In Newport News, The Center for Weight Loss Success offered its first consultation, body composition analysis and vitamin B injections, all with savings of up to 50 percent, in October 2011 through LivingSocial. It repeated the deal in January. "It has been a great opportunity for us to introduce our programs and nutritional products to tech-savvy individuals. … Respondents tend to be younger, in their 20s and 30s," according to Cat Keller, sales manager for the center. Fully 80 percent purchased additional products. Suffolk resident Sonja Klink, a regular daily deal purchaser, was among them. "Not only did I buy the offer, I enrolled in their weight loss university and joined their gym," she says.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun