September 18, 2019

Federal and state officials last week raided a plastic surgery office following accusations that a doctor at the clinic administered non-FDA-approved drugs to patients who purchased certain services through Groupon, adding to growing concerns that Groupon users might be more vulnerable to medical scams, Hannah Knowles reports for the Washington Post.

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Background: Providers turn to Groupon to attract new patients

Groupon is a coupon website that sells discounts for various services and goods. Health-related Groupon deals first became popular between 2011 and 2013, when websites like Groupon were at peak popularity. Patients today can find Groupon deals for everything from ultrasounds to heart scans and full-body CT-scans.

Patients typically view health care-related Groupons as a way to mitigate high costs, but Groupon's use has sparked debate in the health care industry. Some providers say the deals offer patients affordable services while giving providers a way to attract new patients, while others say the deals risk increasing unnecessary tests and patients receiving low-quality care.

Health officials say Groupon patients got fake botox injections

For instance, FDA, U.S. Postal Service (USPS), and state health officials last week executed a search warrant at a plastic surgery clinic in Florida after conducting a year-long investigation into accusations that a doctor at the clinic was administering non-FDA-approved drugs to patients who purchased her services through Groupon.

USPS Inspector Ivan Ramirez said doctor Francesann Ford at the Beautiful Vision plastic surgery clinic has been accused of injecting patients with fake Botox from China that is "not vetted, sanctioned, or approved in any way." Authorities are looking to talk to patients who might have experienced complications from procedures performed at Beautiful Vision, Knowles reports.

Ford has not yet been charged with any crimes related to the accusations, but FDA has warned her to stop using the products, according to officials.

FDA spokesperson Jeremy Kahn said he could not provide information about the agency's warning to Ford or comment on whether the agency or authorities will take more punitive measures.

Brad Dalton, a spokesperson for Florida's Department of Health, told Knowles that state law bars the department from commenting on the case unless officials find "probable cause" of wrongdoing.

The Post was unable to reach Ford or Beautiful Vision for comment.

Bill Roberts, a spokesperson for Groupon, said the company is no longer working with Ford and has reached out to consumers regarding the allegations.

Are Groupon users vulnerable to medical scams?

Adam Rubinstein, a plastic surgeon from Florida, said the allegations against Ford reinforce concerns that patients who are seeking health care deals through coupon websites could be more vulnerable to scams and more likely to receive care from doctors without certain certifications.

Plastic surgery "[i]s costly to do the right way, and so there's too much temptation for nefarious practitioners to get cheap material [and] offer the services at a cut rate," Rubinstein said, adding, "It's very tempting for the public."

Ramirez recommended that consumers avoid possible scams by passing on Groupon offers that seem "too good to be true" (Knowles, Washington Post, 9/13).

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