Dental hygienist Tonya Davis works on Patricia Alvarado's teeth. The Sparrows Point resident used a Groupon for a dental cleaning, exam and X-rays at Canton Dental Associates. Monica Dillon wasn't happy with her eye care provider, so when she saw an online deal for an exam and glasses for $50, she clicked on it. The accountant, who lives in Columbia and works in Washington, doesn't ordinarily get medical care without a recommendation. But the offer was too good to resist - and, as she notes, there would be no surgery or undressing."The timing was right so I jumped on it," she said about her purchase via Groupon, a deal-of-the-day e-mail sent to tens of thousands of people in the Baltimore region and millions nationwide. "I'd be more cautious about laser surgery or hair removal. That would take more research. But this worked out; they found a problem with my prescription." Katzen Eye Group, the company behind the deal, is among the growing number of health care providers testing the latest in social media. They're intrigued by the opportunity to attract new patients who might have no or little insurance for specialty services, and to provide information and services to current patients. Web pages, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts have become a staple of businesses. The newest trend is dealmakers such as Foursquare (a mobile application allowing participants to "check in" at locations and win small rewards), Scoutmob (e-mails that promise discounts at hot spots in cities such as Washington, though not yet Baltimore) and LivingSocial (a Groupon-like deal site). Groupon was launched in 2007 as a means of organizing social action, including special deals for groups. The Chicago-based company now sends a daily e-mail to 11 million mainly young subscribers who get 50 percent to 90 percent off a service or product such as pottery classes or restaurant meals. A deal is offered for up to 24 hours and a negotiated number of sales are required for the deal to go through. When it does, Groupon takes a cut. The health industry recently has jumped on this e-bandwagon - seeing some successes and taking some hits - as it tries to capitalize on new opportunities in social media, say health care providers and media experts.
Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun