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Surgeons' opinions vary on 'loyalty programs'

Article-Surgeons' opinions vary on 'loyalty programs'

Dr. Lorenc
A number of plastic surgery groups in Great Britain are making use of a new marketing tool called "loyalty cards."

Patients who have five procedures performed at the office will receive either a free procedure or a discount, such as 200 pounds off another, more complex surgical procedure.

Aimed at patients who get maintenance treatments such as Botox or regular face peels, the loyalty cards may be used toward any type of surgical procedure.

Surgeons say the cards simply reward patients who are coming in for procedures over and over again anyway, and they expect most will use the cards for a free session of a treatment they are already getting.

Critics worry that the cards will induce patients to have a surgical procedure they don't need — or wouldn't even really want.

Dr. Finger
On Track wondered what cosmetic surgeons in the United States think about "loyalty cards." Are they a good marketing tool? A bad idea?

Nothing new

Although the bluntness of the British program took some surgeons by surprise, most say the concept isn't foreign to the United States — just the approach.

"That's something that already exists in this country," says Rodger W. Pielet, M.D., a plastic surgeon in Northbrook, Ill. "Botox has a program where they have little business cards called VIP cards. Every time patients have a treatment, they get a punch on it, and after so many, they get a certain discount. So it really already happens."

Dr. Pielet, in practice for 12 years and director of cosmetic surgery training at the University of Chicago, says it's not unusual for a surgeon to discount procedure prices in a variety of cases.

"We will often give a discount to patients who refer a number of people, or if they come back for other things," he says. "If a person has multiple procedures, we will often discount the price."

But Dr. Pielet doesn't think this will change the view of medicine, or even push people to have procedures that they don't need.

"Medicine has already changed. It's a matter of doing things to keep up with the competition," he says.

"As for people having unnecessary surgeries as a result — that has to do with the discretion and honesty of the surgeon. We can say 'no.' It is within our discretion whether or not a procedure is indicated. That's also why I wouldn't really want a card or a policy (of) 'Have so many, get one free.'

"Loyalty is built into the system," Dr. Pielet says. "We don't need a specific program or card for that. It's a compliment when somebody comes back for other things, and to show them our appreciation, we discount them."

Candido Fuentes-Felix, M.D., of Huntington, N.Y., agrees.

"We all do something like that," he says. "A loyalty card might be a little commercial, but whatever entices patients to do something else — as long as it doesn't go outside the bounds of ethical behavior — is a good marketing tool."

Dr. Fuentes-Felix warns surgeons to be careful that they don't go too far.

"People are smarter than you think," he says. "A patient once told me that a surgeon told them to go look for the cheapest price they could get on a certain procedure, and he would do it for less. She never went back.

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