Over the past year, there has been a huge increase in social websites offering discounted procedures and deals on everything from restaurant meals to spa treatments. Companies such as Groupon and Living social have made millions of dollars with their innovative and effective advertising models.
Businesses offer their services and products at a markedly discounted rate in order to attract customers by the hundreds. Typically, the service or product is discounted 50% to the patient, and on top of that, the advertising company takes another 25%; in short, the service is discounted 75% in total, and the “seller” settles for a 25% of their normal income and the hope of many, many consumers.
The economics of social media patients
From the viewpoint of a cosmetic plastic surgeon, this business model sounds great—initially. Any plastic surgeon would love hundreds more patients, and even if he or she could not treat them themselves, they would hire someone else do so!
Then comes the bit where you sit and do the math. It turns out that performing cosmetic plastic surgery has certain fixed costs, like any other business, but that these costs are higher than expected. There is the surgeon’s fee (the only variable under the plastic surgeon’s control), the operating room and anesthesia fees and the costs involving any implants or other medical materials. The 75% reduction off the plastic surgeon’s fee leaves them with 25%. When you figure that most plastic surgeons have a 50% overhead, you can see how the poor surgeon has not only not made any income off the procedure but has actually lost money on the deal!
The surgeon soon realizes that Groupon-type surgery is not only a financial disaster but also huge drain on time and resources for the office staff. Hundreds of patients suddenly show up, and all have pre-paid for their services and are rightly exigent. But surgery and medical procedures take time. An injection of Botox or a dermal skin filler may take only 15 minutes, but a breast augmentation or tummy tuck takes much longer. With the temporal limitations of our world, the plastic surgeon is soon overwhelmed, frustrated and broke! Worse still, if you are one of the last of the group to go in for treatment, the plastic surgeon is not going to be happy. He or she have will have figured out by then “what a mess they got themselves into” and will be reticent to waste more time on a lost cause. You will probably get sub-par treatment. Cruelest of all: the Groupon patients leave and go on to the next great deal. The promise of loyal patients that the surgeon can grow old with is a broken and hollow one.
All of this is assuming that advertising plastic surgery services with the intent to enter into a financial and medical relationship with a patient one has never seen is ethical. It is not. Social media patients buy the services and pay upfront before ever coming into contact with the cosmetic surgeon. The plastic surgeon typically sees them for the first time on the day of treatment, and the financial pressure to proceed without properly evaluating the patient’s needs, desires and procedural candidacy is immense and usually too much for any plastic surgeon to bear. Procedures are performed that should not have been.
The UK Plastic Surgery Association has outlawed the use of Groupon-like schemes on the basis of just such ethical reasons. US cosmetic plastic surgeons should follow suit in the interest of patients rather than their in the interest of their own wallets.