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Groupon.com and its clones — Homerun.com, Livingsocial.com, Giltcity.com, Buywithme.com — are worth evaluating in 2011. Nationwide, doctors using Groupon offer a cut-rate “deal of the day” typically for cleaning, exam and X-rays. “The deal” is that Groupon guarantees the participating doctor a minimum number of new patients in exchange for a below-cost fee for the first visit. The concept is this: the doctor agrees to reduced fees now and hopes to make it up later through patient retention. But what types of patients use Groupon-type coupons? And what are dentists reporting after trying Groupon?
Mark Jablonski in Washington, DC, likes Groupon coupons. A technical consultant, he spotted Groupon online shortly after its 2008 debut in the Chicago market by Northwestern University graduate Andrew Mason. Every day since, he gets a daily deal e-mail of DC offers.
When overdue for a cleaning, Mr. Jablonski was one of 254 bargain hunters who got in on the $59 deal of the day to get a dental exam, X-rays and cleaning from Virginia dentist Priti Naik. The value of her services was $260; he saved 77 percent.
Mr. Jablonski said he found the dental visit to be a good experience for his routine cleaning, and it was close to home. “But I probably won’t go back,” he admitted, “unless I have an emergency.” His “regular” dentist practices several hours away.
Nima, a dental office manager in Oregon City, OR, who requested her last name be withheld, said: “We got more than 200 new patients, but we did a lot of work.”
She said that Groupon got a 30 percent cut of the $59 deal, and about 25 patients scheduled restorative or follow-up care. It’s hard to say if the practice will benefit in the long run from participating.
Dentists are advised to strategize for accommodating the high volume of Groupon patients swarming the phones to book their appointment “right away.” Told they can not get an appointment for six months, potential patients could turn into critics, taking jabs at your practice online.
But it may seem to be the perfect match for a new practice without an established patient base.
“The first time we tried Groupon in 2009, we had 330 people overnight. They all called right away. It was crazy. We had to fit them in within two to three months. But she had just opened her practice so it was the quickest way to get patients in the door,” explained Robert Vaksman, a tech-savvy attorney who commented on his wife, dentist Irena Vaksman, using Groupon.
To “wow” the patient, Dr. Vaksman and staff attempt to be “on,” knowing they are under scrutiny by the Groupon patient. Being in “job interview mode” during long hours of physical work is grueling. Corresponding financial gain doesn’t correlate with the head count — confusingly counterintuitive. Add to this, the Vaksmans have two small children.
The jury is out on Groupon for dentists, but the Vaksmans think it has its place as one mass media tool. “To get in front of this many people, you’d spend $5,000 in direct mail and get 20 new patients. We spent nothing and got more than that. My wife’s practice is on the 23rd floor, surrounded by hundreds of dentists. There is only one way to differentiate her without frontage signage: online marketing. A lot of the Groupon patients have posted good reviews of her. The trickle is slow, but rippling,” Mr. Vaksman said.
A tradition of working for the dental profession. The Chicago Dental Society was organized in 1864 and incorporated in 1878. The objective of the Chicago Dental Society is to encourage the improvement of the health of the public, to promote the art and science of dentistry and to represent the intrest of the members of the profession and the public that it serves.
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