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One of my friends sent me a text of a photo from Groupon for 50% off a LASIK procedure. “Should I get this? LOL,” they sent along with the photo. He was clearly kidding, but there are many consumers out there that don’t understand that performing LASIK is more complex than just pressing a button. As a result, they may take the discount center up on their offer, and in doing so, be rolling the proverbial dice.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that there are many products and services that can be effectively promoted with a Groupon – LASIK just isn’t one of them. Groupon is ideal for introducing consumers to new products and services, however, LASIK is a one-time procedure that is not routinely repeated. When consumers are referred to one of these slashing discount centers, they demand the advertised price without knowing the effect it has on the outcome.

LASIK is still in its early adoption phase and thanks to mainstream media, is often feared by consumers. The service itself does not have significant price elasticity – lowering the price simply results in lower revenue and decreases the level of service. This is why almost every discount LASIK corporate entity disappeared nearly a decade ago or discount centers have added different services other than LASIK at their centers (Fillers, Botox, etc). The elasticity and increased volume created by discount centers created slim margins for individual doctors, and were only survivable by large conglomerates within the industry. Remember, three times the surgical volume at a center translates into three times the potential for errors, and one-third of the attention provided to each patient. Therefore, there are only a few reasons that I can think of (none of which are particularly good) to why a LASIK center would employ the Groupon tactic:

  • To Gain Surgical Experience – The surgeon lacks significant experience with LASIK and wants to hone his or her skills by drawing more consumers in. Basic LASIK skills for very cooperative patients are relatively easy to transfer but we don’t always know which cases will be easy and which ones will be tough. LASIK procedures have much better fail-safes now but can still result in problems for the inexperienced. I guess, every surgeon, yours truly included, had to start somewhere, but I don’t think that I’m open to the idea of saving money by having someone “practice” on me and my eyes.
  • To Fulfill Quotas – Some laser manufacturers have guaranteed minimums on monthly procedure numbers performed in their laser leasing arrangement or need to meet minimum to stay open.
  • Bait and Switch Type 1 – The price quoted is not all-inclusive – The surgeon or laser center promotes a lower fee, and subsequently add on numerous additional charges related to pre-and post-op care to offset the discount. For example, a patient may then be offered an extended lifetime care plan for an additional charge. Whose lifetime is it by the way – The patients? The doctors? The centers.
  • Bait and Switch Type 2- To draw patients to a center where the doctor doesn’t perform many LASIK procedures but will try to sell the patient on an alternative service to LASIK, such as Premium Intraocular Lens Replacement surgery or PRK.
  • Bait and Switch Type 3 – The fees quoted is for older, less precise traditional technology including the use of a bladed device called a microkeratome to create the corneal flap. Once at the center, an attempt is made to upgrade each patient to “Premium Procedures”. Having gone through the full three-hour dilated eye exam and factoring in the add-ons, the patient is given a price nearly identical to the centers that quote all-in pricing. Many consumers will not balk at the deception and stay at the discount location.

The problem with these types of strategies, are that some patients will refuse any upgrades, opting to pay the quoted Groupon rate, because they do not understand the technological differences or the increased potential of complications. The discounting surgeon is forced to employ technology that is inferior to what is generally available in the community.

Over the past ten years, centers that have invested in more advanced premium all-laser LASIK technology have reduced or eliminated many older issues experienced by patients, including nighttime glare and halos, dry eye and flap creation complications. I’m proud to say that we were the first center in Florida to invest in the newest all laser technology, in turn replacing what was previously the best technology available. Our practice is 93% word-of-mouth and referrals. We have been successful by not offering the lowest price, but by giving patients the best care and service combined with the best possible outcomes to create a world-class experience.

It is our goal to see that every patient at Millennium Laser Eye Centers reaches their best vision possible; 100 percent of the time. About three years ago we began streaming a live webcast of every procedure that we perform at the center, making it possible to watch procedures from three different vantage points including a microscope surgeon view. We began doing this as a way to show the world how amazing, safe and life-changing modern LASIK truly is.

I guess one could wait for our center to offer a Groupon or Living Social coupon for LASIK, but I have a sneaking suspicion one would be waiting an awfully long time. As for me, I’m off to try a great new restaurant with a Groupon.

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