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Tuesday
Oct182011

Daily Deals for Discounted Health Services?

Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Everyone likes a good deal. But what about 50 percent off a flu vaccine or bone density test?

Discount service sites are offering an increasing array of health services, and not just Botox.

Sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial are known for their "daily deals" for things to do, see or get locally. Groupon, which launched in 2008, offers deals in 43 countries; while LivingSocial has "603 daily deal markets worldwide," according to its website.

Fran Miller, 61, of Northern Virginia recently bought a Groupon for 50 percent off her annual flu shot at Inova Health System in Northern Virginia.  

"I would have gotten a flu shot anyway and have historically gotten one, and this was less expensive and located right in my community," Miller said.

Dr. Loring Flint, Inova's chief medical officer, said, "Flu season is upon us, and we'd like to prevent, as much as possible, the threat of a serious flu season this year. We discussed various ways to make sure folks had access to the flu vaccine [and] we have a number of new practices and with a very creative marketing department always challenging us to do things differently, why not go to social media and see if this is something worthwhile?"

Both LivingSocial and Groupon declined to comment; Groupon because of the quiet period surrounding its initial public stock offering.

Vaccinations are not the only medical procedures offered at 50 percent off. Dentists are getting into the game with discounts on teeth cleaning, whitening, braces and veneers. One Virginia health clinic recently offered 50 percent off a bone-density test for osteoporosis. Even plastic surgeons offering minimally invasive liposuction and breast augmentations are offering daily deals.

But while doctors who enlist the use of discount websites to offer their services see it as a marketing tool, Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at Dartmouth, believes consumers should use caution when considering purchasing a health product from a discount site.

Welch added that he believed consumers should realize that "the primary interest here is for someone to make money and that may not meet your interest as the patient... Be more skeptical, and just because the price is lower doesn't mean it's better."

Whether there will be more medical procedures offered at discount rates remains to be seen, although some doctors, such as surgeon Carter, think it's going to become more commonplace.

"Especially in this economy, where things are a bit more depressed and there is more competition for smaller potential patient database," Carter said. "Not a lot of people are looking at procedures that are a luxury item. So the cosmetic surgeon and plastic surgeons are competing for a smaller group of people who can afford what we provide."

All of the physicians agreed that when a consumer is purchasing a discount deal, it is important for them to know who is providing the service, and do a little research on the physician offering the service.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio