Like many people, you might personally be a huge fan of Groupon, Angie’s List, and similar discount sites.
You can use these for car detailing, housekeeping services, dining out, and many other things. It’s a great way to market new and small businesses—unless you work in healthcare. In the last couple of weeks, I have seen the following deals advertised:
- $40 for a wellness package with an exam and five adjustments ($675 value)
- $49 for a spinal exam, a set of three X-rays and one adjustment ($500 value)
- $44 for a chiropractic evaluation and three adjustments ($440 value)
- $59 for a chiropractic exam and two adjustments ($325 value)
The full value of these services ranges from $325 to $675, but their discounted prices are between $40 to $59. You probably have personal and professional concerns when you see these kinds of deals pop up on your computer screen. What message are you sending to potential patients about our profession? Would someone really use one of these discount sites for a tonsillectomy, a bowel resection, or a knee replacement?
When we put chiropractic adjustments on the same playing field as a pedicure or car detailing service, how much value are we placing on chiropractic care in the minds of the public?
No matter how you feel about that aspect, we are not allowed, as a profession, to dramatically discount our services, offer free treatments, or provide gifts or free meals to potential patients. Any one of these things can be considered an “inducement” or a kick-back by various government entities. The long-term effects of using Groupon, Angie’s List, and other discount sites can be devastating.
If your discounts trigger inducement violations, you can expect to pay fines up to $10,000 per occurrence. That’s a pretty expensive slap on the wrist. This means that a small practice could be just one audit away from serious financial hardship, and maybe even bankruptcy.
Don’t discount the dangers
Most of the discounts you see for chiropractic care tend to be between 50 and 90 percent. And these could be viewed as violations of the federal anti-kickback statute and Medicare’s inducement statute. Many states have also adopted the same or similar rules. This could also pose a problem when it comes to your provider agreements with insurance companies.
Deep discounts can appear to be a dual fee schedule in your practice, as you may be offering discounts far below what you would be charging to insurance. Insurance companies view that as fraud. This is especially true when whatever offer you make can be seen by everyone, not just potential patients.
Another drawback to using discount sites, aside from the legal implications, is the concomitant loss in revenue. Often, these deals are offered below what it costs to perform the services, and that is even before you consider that some discount sites keep 50 percent of the revenue from each deal.
If you are offering a $49 new-patient visit, you will only see $24.50 from each deal purchased. On average, only 20 percent of the people who purchase these deals return to that place of business. It is unlikely that a temporary boost in new patients will result in profit. Is it really worth the risk?
Admittedly, it’s a tough market out there, underscoring the need to advertise your practice in today’s market. You want to stay competitive, attract new patients, and offer affordable fees. There are ways to market your practice and keep care affordable without exposing your office and your licenses to potential risks such as fines and penalties.
Start by having a presence in your community. Are you attending health fairs, local 5K runs, and chamber of commerce events? You and your team members can be the best advertising for your practice. Let your community get to know you through your participation in your community.
Build your online brand. Today’s patients are connected to their friends, families, and communities through the web. Is your website mobile friendly? Does it explain the benefits of chiropractic? Is your contact information easy to find? Are your hours clearly listed? Can new patients make an appointment from your website?
These seemingly small details can have a big impact on your business. Make it easy for patients to find you, get answers to their questions, and contact you. It can be that simple.
The social strategy
No matter how you feel about social media personally, it can have a huge impact on your business. Consider these statistics:
- Online, adults aged 18 to 34 are most likely to follow a brand via social networking.
- In 2015, Facebook influenced slightly more than 50 percent of consumers’ online and offline purchases, up from 36 per cent in 2014.
- There are 40 million active small business pages on Facebook, and 4 million of those businesses pay for social media advertising on Facebook.
- There were more than 4.4 million videos uploaded directly to Facebook in February 2016, generating over 199 billion views.
- More than half of YouTube views come from mobile devices and the average mobile viewing session lasts more than 40 minutes.
If you sense the need for a web and social media presence, you may be wondering what you should be posting to minimize the risks of potential audits. Avoid giving medical advice that is specific to one patient, and be aware there are resources available to help you educate your followers on the benefits of chiropractic care. This can position you as a health-and-wellness resource in your community.
Start by following the companies whose products and services you provide in your office. Follow the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress (F4CP), an organization whose sole purpose is to educate consumers on the benefits of chiropractic care. Share their posts and research other topics to highlight on your social feeds.
Encourage your patients to follow you on social media by posting health and wellness tips (e.g., back-to-school is the perfect time to post about back- pack safety.) Once you get started, you won’t be lacking for ideas or posts you can share through your social accounts.
Sweat the small stuff
While you are developing multiple avenues to engage with your audience, work with your team to ensure that your clientele is having the ultimate patient experience. Your office should be an oasis in an otherwise busy day. Getting there should be easy, and being there should be pleasant.
Make scheduling and check-out a breeze. Offer affordable payment options for your patients. Set up easy and convenient ways to accept payments, like auto-debit. These can eliminate the need for your patients to part with money at the end of each visit, and make each visit more convenient for your patient and your team. Getting new patients to come into your office doesn’t have to be difficult or come with massive discounts and potential risks. After all, you want to attract patients who value the services you offer, not people who are only looking for a good deal.
Ray Foxworth, DC, FICC, MCS-P, is president of ChiroHealthUSA and a certified medical compliance specialist. He maintains his practice on NewSouth Professional Campus, home to a large multidisciplinary spine center, offering services ranging from chiropractic to neurosurgery. He can be reached through chirohealthusa.com, where you can learn more and register for webinars.