In healthcare, building a positive public image can go a long way toward getting patients through the door. However, the substance abuse industry is rife with unethical marketing practices that derail this mission.
The following are the top unethical practices currently being employed by less-than-scrupulous treatment centers in our industry now.
Patient brokering, the act of paying a “bounty” for new patients, so long as they have insurance, has skyrocketed in recent years. So much so that the Palm Beach County, an epicenter for recovery – and recovery-related fraud – has started to crack down. Its Sober Home Task Force has thus far arrested 26 people involved with patient brokering and more arrests are sure to come.
Why do treatment centers use patient brokers?
The use of these so called “body brokers” is tied to urinalysis-related insurance fraud. As many in the industry are aware, unscrupulous treatment centers are more concerned with moving the bodies and billing their insurance companies, than they are the well being of the individuals they’re serving.
Some of these patients are coming from the so-called “sober homes” that have sprung up in recent years to in a response to Americas opioid crisis. The problem with many of these sober homes is that they are anything but. They merely offer individuals a free place to stay so long as they continue their outpatient recovery – actual sobriety not necessary.
There is, of course, a role for sober homes and halfway houses to play in addiction treatment. But the pipeline should really move from the treatment center to the sober home – and not the other way around.
Overselling Your Service
When dealing with vulnerable patient populations, it’s extremely unethical to mischaracterize your services, your staff’s credentials, or your location / amenities. These kinds of bait-and-switch tactics are as old as snake oil and need to stop. If you’re offering legitimate and effective treatments, your patients will find you.
Using Protected Health Information for Promotional Purposes
Client testimonials are a great way to sell your services. But using protected health information is highly unethical, and is a violation of HIPAA regulations. For this reason, you should steer clear of using protected health information when offering up success stories to potential clients, whether on promotional materials, or on a one-on-one basis.
To mitigate this, make sure to get a patient’s written permission before using their testimonial, and make sure they steer clear divulging of any protected health information in your published testimonial.
Not Being Up Front about the Cost of Treatment
This is a big one, and too many healthcare providers are guilty of being less-than-transparent when it comes to cost. But patients and their families should be able to play an active role in their care, and that means choosing treatment options that work for them – and their financial situations. As such, it’s important for treatment providers to be forthcoming about what insurance pays, and what it will pay for.
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