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Programs preach ethical, effective marketing

April 30, 2018
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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After seeing the addiction treatment industry as a whole sullied by the unscrupulous marketing activities of a few bad actors, several organizations in the field are working to restore the good name of those who are doing things the right way.

Multiple certification programs are launching to educate providers on legal and ethical practices for promoting their businesses and to give marketers a way to show the public they are committed to playing by the rules. Organizations launching certification programs include: the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP), Behavioral Health Association of Providers (BHAP) and the Certified Addiction Marketing Organization (CAMO).

“We have to instill public confidence in the addiction treatment system,” says Pete Nielsen, CCAPP CEO. “The biggest crime that these bad actors have committed is they’ve potentially robbed the public’s confidence in addiction treatment.”

Nielsen says consumers believe that all addiction treatment has some degree of fraud, but in reality, only a small percentage of bad actors in small areas are guilty of deception. Professional certification programs can put marketing into perspective, he says.

Creating certification standards and credentials for marketers is as much about reputation management as it is about establishing best practices, says Andrew Martin, chief operating officer for BHAP. With an outbreak of patient brokering and other unethical tactics, those outside the industry began making a concerted effort to crack down in 2017.

Google, the largest purveyor of online advertising, announced in September 2017 it would no longer accept AdWords advertising for addiction treatment services. In April, it updated that stance, saying it would begin accepting such ads again starting in July 2018, provided advertisers meet more stringent requirements.

Lawmakers in hotbed states such as Florida and New York, meanwhile, passed legislation in 2017 to punish bad actors. The problem, Martin says, is that bills specifically designed to attack unethical practices have hurt those trying to do the right thing, too.

“The problem with legislators writing this stuff is they don’t consider unintended consequences,” Martin says. “What about all of the providers that are wanting to do the right thing, but every once in a while, they may make a mistake or they’re doing something everyone else does and they don’t know it’s a problem? These are not the people they want to shut down.”

He says those organizations need to be educated so they can correct their actions because they’re not willingly trying to defraud anyone. Lawmakers likely didn’t recognize that nuance when they put anti-fraud legislation into place, he says.

Self-regulation, Nielsen says, is a necessary step for reining in marketers. CCAPP has overseen credentialing in a number of areas in the field for the past 35 years, with certifications that cover criminal justice professionals, drug and alcohol counselors, and peer support specialists, among others. The consortium is now in the process of developing a similar credential to verify ethical marketing practices that Nielsen says can function as an extra layer of protection for the public similar to what is offered by the Better Business Bureau.

“We need to set the tone,” Nielsen says. “The industry has to say, ‘We’re not going to stand for this.’ ”

Comprehensive coursework

Earlier this year, BHAP launched its certification program for marketers, both for those who represent one treatment center and those who work for multiple organizations, such as call center operators. The program includes six courses:

  • Corporate ethics and compliance
  • Consumer privacy and data security
  • Ethical communications in marketing
  • Ethical compensation practices
  • Addiction treatment marketing I
  • Addiction treatment marketing II

Materials for the first four courses were developed by legal professionals, while marketing experts were responsible for the creation of the two addiction treatment marketing classes. Each course lasts six hours and can be completed in a live setting or online. Most individuals enrolled in the program are doing a combination of the two, taking some courses in person and others online, Martin says.

Live courses typically are offered as part of an industry conference. For example, three BHAP marketing certification courses will be offered at the National Conference on Alcohol & Addiction Disorders in August. Martin says the live setting is ideal for the two addiction treatment marketing courses, as participants work in peer groups, bouncing ideas off one another and developing parts of their actual marketing campaigns.

Each course’s online version is broken down into shorter modules. Martin cited the consumer privacy and data security session as one that is ideal for the online option, as it includes a glossary of legal terms and regulations that aren’t necessarily familiar to providers.

Completing the 36-hour certification process at “a reasonable clip” might take between a month and a month and a half, Martin says. The cost to complete all six courses in live sessions varies from $1,600 to $2,000, while online courses range from $650 to $1,000. Participants can mix live and online courses and BHAP is able to offer continuing education credits for certain provider associations.

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Addiction professionals annually convene at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders to share what’s working: Clinicians hear from thought leaders on delivering treatment, while executives of behavioral healthcare organizations learn how to run more effective, more efficient, and ethically minded businesses.

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