If you work at or own a rehabilitation center, you know effective marketing is an important key to better business.
Unfortunately, in the world of rehabs, there is also a fair amount of unethical practices, especially when it comes to marketing.
This is hugely concerning not only from a fair business perspective but in terms of the vast amount of people in need of treatment. Because of the rampant use of unethical marketing amongst treatment centers, the ability to find the right facility for those seeking treatment is greatly diminished.
When potential clients seek information about your treatment center, one of the first places they will go is to your website.
Any treatment center that is going to attract potential clients must have a website detailing information regarding treatment approaches, interventions, finances, and insurance. Yet, the old adage, “don’t believe everything you read” stands true for some of these sites, as many rehabs mislead the public regarding program information.
Facts and figures are a great way to convey quick snippets of information to the consumer, and many rehabs use success rates as a way to do this.
Sadly, some rehab success rates are misleading. This could be because they are not doing adequate research regarding success.
Some websites will quote success rates simply based on the number of people who completed the treatment program, regardless of treatment outcome. Some success rates are based on patient self-reports, which may be misleading as well.
The biggest offender here is those rehabs that are completely fabricating the numbers. This is a frequent unethical practice because these figures are some of the easiest to manipulate.
If a treatment center’s reported success rate seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Accreditation and licensing occur at both a state and national levels. Having your treatment center both accredited and licensed is important, as it provides objective, third-party assurance that the program is providing excellent care and meeting facility operation standards. But just because a rehab has a license or accreditation logo on their site does not mean all locations are actually licensed/accredited. Getting licensed happens on a state level, so contacting your local health services department is a good first step.
For accreditation purposes, there are various national accreditation entities (i.e. – CARF, JCAHO). Being fully licensed and accredited is considered best practice when it comes to treatment facilities.
Some treatment organizations claim to offer services in multiple cities or states, when, truly, they only serve one city or state. Rehab websites typically describe the services offered, including treatment modalities, approaches, and interventions. Sadly, some rehabs claim their program offers certain things (in an effort to appeal to more people) that they do not.
Treatment center websites also frequently misrepresent themselves by claiming potential clients will be able to get services covered by insurance, when, in reality, they will not. This can be devastating to people seeking treatment, as the financial aspect can hold significant weight in terms of which rehab they choose to attend.
The online reputation of your treatment center carries huge weight in terms of success rates.
And as you may already know, a big part of any business’s online reputation is in the reviews it receives. Thus, it may not be a surprise to know that some treatment centers generate fake reviews.
This goes two different ways – rehabs generating fake reviews that reflect them in a very positive light, or rehabs generating fake reviews about a competitor that is negative.
Bad search results can hinder any company’s success, and the same can be said for your rehabilitation center.
A bad search result associated with your rehab will most likely take a toll on the business. Perhaps this is why many rehabs utilize online reputation management services to suppress certain content that could reflect negatively upon them.
These reputation management companies can be costly, but can effectively suppress certain content, thus making it very difficult for potential consumers to find it. While many companies in many different industries use this tactic, it is quite an unethical practice when it comes to rehabs. Suppressing content hinders the ability of those seeking treatment to receive all of the information regarding a treatment facility.
3rd party hosted content is popular, and a very unethical practice, in the realm of rehab and treatment centers. Those who use 3rd party hosted content are doing so to increase website traffic to, and interested in, their particular treatment facility.
Essentially, this means some rehabs are buying fake reviews. They pay either a professional reviewer or comparison website for positive reviews.
This tactic is tremendously unethical as the person writing the review has not received treatment at the facility, thus reflecting information that may not be true.
To stay in business, you must of course, have consumers. But some rehab facilities fabricate certain things in an effort to admit more patients. This widely used unethical practice of promising things (also sometimes referred to as patient enticement), is one of the oldest tactics around. Enticing patients by promising they will be allowed certain things (cigarettes, food, etc.) that they would not have access to in other facilities is manipulative and deceptive.
Unethical online marketing tactics have become a game in the treatment facility world and often are used in the hopes of increasing admissions.
For example, an independent organization or person starts a generic site associated with a toll-free help-line number. Those who land on the website are led to believe it is intended to assist with directing individuals seeking treatment to the “best-fit” rehab facility.
The individual working the phone line (who often has no clinical experience), asks the caller some generic questions, which the caller is then led to believe they are being evaluated or assessed. Eventually, a referral suggestion is made to a specific treatment center. Yet, unbeknownst to the caller, this recommendation is not based on his or her needs, but on which treatment center offers the highest bid for the caller.
Essentially, treatment centers pay for these types of leads and compete to gain them. Some have referred to this unethical marketing tactic as a way to get “heads in beds.
When making the initial call to a potential patient it is extremely important to provide accurate and pertinent information. Unfortunately, many rehabilitation centers claim they can admit patients immediately (or within 24 hours).
Yet, anyone who makes that statement is being completely deceptive, as the admission process is complicated (insurance verification, medical/psychological assessments, etc.) and takes time. Completing all steps of the process before admission is vital, and will benefit the patient far more than hurriedly admitting him or her.
This unethical practice may surprise you.
Some treatment centers will lie about where they are actually located, in an effort to sell their services to a wider range of people. These rehabs pay Google, or other search engines, to make it look as though they are located in a specific area when they are not. The hope is that by lying about their location, they will bring in additional calls to the facility. Once they have a potential client on the phone, they tend to try to “sell” the caller into coming to their specific facility, regardless of if that person has to get on a plane to get there.
We all know plagiarism is a big no-no, whether in school or in business. Yet that doesn’t mean all people steer clear of it. Unfortunately, some rehabilitation facilities create their websites using a substantial amount of content from the website of another treatment facility. This is an issue because if the content of a rehab’s website is copied from another’s, the information provided will not reflect what is actually offered at that rehab.
A link farm is a collection of websites (or backlinks) connected with one another, used to increase the number of inbound links.
Basically, they are links that link back to other sites. Link farming is a quick way to make it look as though a particular website is being discussed all over the Internet, thus seeming popular or widely used. Some rehabs use this approach to search engine optimization to increase consumer interest in their particular facility. This is deemed unethical when it comes to treatment facilities as it is considered manipulation.
If you work for a rehabilitation center, then chances are your company uses social media as a way to market. And while not all social media marketing is unethical, there is a fair amount of opportunity for it to be. Those who utilize social media in an unethical way are those who “spam” the social community with links intended to lure them to a particular site. If that isn’t bad enough, some rehabs will actually post in online community discussions, endorsing services, under the guise of being a consumer.
The items listed above cover the most common types of unethical marketing practices rehabs use, but of course, all dishonest techniques should be avoided. If ethics alone aren’t enough of a deterrent, the knowledge that using unethical marketing techniques can lead to a damaged reputation, a banned website from search engines, or even lawsuits for copyright infringement.
It is the responsibility of your treatment center’s marketing team to practice within the realm of ethical marketing practices, and being fully educated is key.
Knowing the ethical practice guidelines that should be followed is a good place to start. And even if your facility is marketing in an ethical way, it is likely they are functioning in an unethical manner.
So, what can be done?
Most importantly, people need to begin to speak out. Whether you are a treatment facility owner, a CEO, or a marketing director, it is vital you communicate when you witness unethical practices.
Local or state governing bodies can be contacted with concerns about unethical practices. Those in need of treatment deserve to receive accurate, reliable information when making the difficult decision to go to rehab.