Imaging centers are peddling discounted scans through e-commerce sites such as Groupon. However, this marketing tactic is probably not giving patients the peace-of-mind that they’re after, according to a study recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine. 

The group of researchers from Brigham and Women’s led by Sheena Desai, a MD/MBA student at Tufts University School of Medicine, found 84 companies across 27 states that advertise vouchers on Groupon for 130 different types of imaging services. Since February 2020, over 28,000 of these vouchers have been purchased. 

Although Desai and her team couldn’t determine the specific motivations for purchasing discounted imaging exams, they were able to assess key consumer behaviors. They found that the most popular service was CT scans, making up 41.3 percent of purchased exams, and fetal ultrasound came in second with 36.9 percent. Prices ranged from $60 for a biofeedback scan to $687 for MRI. Discounts were as high as 94 percent off for a series of CT scans, cutting the rate from $1,569 to $95. 

Although direct-to-consumer sites might seem like an easier and cheaper alternative than going through the conventional physician referral process, the researchers believe that these consumers aren’t protected from biased or false medical advice. Only one of the imaging companies described the possible risks of medical imaging in their advertisement.