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Illinois issues regulations on how dentists can participate in Groupon

Springfield, Ill.—Illinois is the latest state to issue regulations on how health care providers, including dentists, can participate in social couponing websites without violating unethical fee-splitting laws.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations on April 10 issued a statement that says as long as health care providers follow certain rules, advertising their services using vouchers does not constitute unethical fee-splitting. Under the traditional business models for entities like Groupon and Living Social, the social couponing companies generally keep a percentage of the revenue from patients, remitting the remainder to the dentist, which could be deemed illegal fee-splitting under state law.

Illinois health care providers can advertise their services through a social coupon if they ensure that the negotiated fee between the voucher advertising company and themselves represents a reasonable compensation for the cost of advertising. They also must clearly and conspicuously incorporate the following terms and conditions in all ads:

• a description of the discounted price in comparison to the actual cost of services;

• a disclosure that all patients may not be eligible for the advertised health care service and that decisions about health care should not be made in haste. It should also state that the health care provider will determine the care for the patient on an individual basis;

• a disclosure to prospective patients that, if it is later decided that the patient is not a candidate for the previously purchased health care service, the patient's purchase price will be refunded in its entirety. If the patient does not claim the service, then the patient's purchase price must still be refunded in its entirety. In the event that the voucher advertising company does not refund the purchase price in its entirety, it will be the sole obligation of the health care provider to refund the entire purchase price.

The American Dental Association legal department cautions that, even under these criteria, there are other legal and ethical issues that a dentist must consider before using social coupons to promote his or her dental practice. A dentist is advised to consult with an attorney familiar with such issues in the state where the dentist is located before moving forward with social coupons.

To learn more about these issues, visit www.ada.org/members/6502.aspx.