A Tricky Balance for Online Coupons Advertising Medical Services

Recent guidance from the New York State Office of the Professions (OP) suggests that the agency  did not entirely reject Internet coupons or vouchers that many refer to as “Groupons.” The OP did, however, affirm concerns previously expressed here that offering coupons for medical services requires careful consideration.

In certain situations, said the OP, the arrangement for offering internet coupons by marketing organizations, where the consumer, as the recipient of the coupon or voucher, initiated the contact with the marketing organization and requested notification of deals, could be structured so not to constitute a prohibited fee-splitting or referral fee arrangement. In those instances, however, the compensation paid by a licensed medical or dental professional to the Groupon advertiser needs to be a reasonable, including a reasonable profit.

While not completely banning the use of internet coupons by medical and dental licensed professionals, the OP’s guidance presents a challenge to licensed professionals and advertisers alike because it left many issues unresolved.  The message from the OP is clear: licensed professionals are cautioned to pay attention to arrangement details for compliance with applicable statutory and regulatory provisions.

The Department remains concerned that if not properly structured such arrangements could trigger the application of regulations relating to fee-splitting, the exercise of undue influence on a patient, prohibition on referral fees, and prohibitions against false and misleading advertising.

If you have questions about physician licensing, licensed professionals’ advertising, Groupons, fee-splitting, scope of practice issues, healthcare compliance, or have other health law questions, please contact our office