Are you using social coupons to market your practice?

Dental practices are always looking for new ways to attract patients.  The use of social media and social coupons has become the latest marketing trend.  A social coupon is a highly discounted deal that's available in limited quantities for a limited amount of time.  Usually it is targeted towards a specific demographic or geographic area.  Since these deals are so good the coupons only become valid once a certain number of people commit to buying it.  Hence "group coupon".

Many of you have probably used Groupon (the most popular of social coupons), Social Living or any of the other social coupons in your personal lives for discounted prices on meals, trips and spa services to name a few.  They are a great money saving tool!
How do social coupons fit into dentistry? Well, the jury is still out on whether or not dental offices can take part in these deals.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), using the services of social coupons may violate ethical and legal rules.  The laws on this vary from state to state and you must consider the application of professional conduct on both a state and federal level before proceeding. 

Most state professional codes or Dental Practice Acts include a provision to prevent the use of cappers (people who refer patients to doctors in return for a fee) and kickbacks (monies paid by a doctor to a referral source in return for receiving a referral).  Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island all have an Anti-Kickback Law.

If you are a dentist that participates with Medicare or Medicaid you really need to consider the repercussions of using social coupons.  Per the ADA, a violation by a dentist who provides services payable by a federal health care program could result in the dentist being charged with a felony and subject to fines and imprisonment in addition to being excluded from federally funded programs.

Using social coupons could also be problematic under the terms of your contract with insurance companies.  Insurance contracts sometimes contain a "most favored nation" clause, which means the dentist must grant the insurer the best price that the dentist charges for a particular procedure.  The insurance company could invoke such a clause to oblige a dentist who has given a Groupon discount for a particular service to charge that reduced price to all patients covered by that insurer.  As such, we recommend you review the terms and conditions of your contracts with insurance companies.

The practice of dentistry is to provide the highest quality in total dental health.  That being said, patients should find you based upon glowing referrals and reviews from current patients, not from a discount program.

For more information on the ADA's memorandum on Referral Gifts and Groupon Discounts click here.