In many parts of the country, how to market to attract new patients to opioid treatment programs (OTPs) is a moot point. There are waiting lists lasting for months. The demand for treatment is such that the only programs that are able to grow are those in urban areas like New York City and Baltimore.
In places where there are plenty of slots and lots of competition, marketing is particularly important.
It’s important to reach out to new patients, especially with the existence of the Affordable Care Act and parity, which together are making treatment more accessible to younger, insured, employed patients.
To market to new patients, it’s important to understand what keeps your current patients happy, and what they need, said Jerry Rhodes, CEO of CRC Health Group, in an interview with AT Forum. “There’s a patient-focused ethic within CRC,” he said, adding that the organization monitors and evaluates patient satisfaction, so it’s a critical driver of business for the Cupertino, California-based chain. While addressing patient needs and desires may be difficult to translate into advertising, it’s still a critical element: “Patients talk, and they know which programs do what,” said Mr. Rhodes.
For example, ease of access—few barriers to care—is important to patients, and they’ll know whether your facility has it or not, just from talk on the street.
Another element that distinguishes OTPs from other kinds of programs is geography: patients looking for OTP services want something local. In areas where they have more than one option, the facility most likely to be able to accommodate their needs is the one they will choose.
CRC, which is for-profit, has various types of facilities, including the residential high-end programs which are in the extremely competitive market for patients. OTPs are different—competition may not be as fierce. But it’s still important to make sure that the prospective patients are getting the right information. “Younger people are using the Internet, which is a font of misinformation,” said Mr. Rhodes. But you can’t ignore Internet marketing—you need to use it well. “There’s overall consumer ignorance about the treatment options available,” he said.
At non-profit OTPs, patient satisfaction translates into marketing. “We’re a non-profit OTP, so we don’t market ourselves,” said Suzanne Ducate, MD, chief of the medical staff at the Hartford Dispensary in Connecticut. “Most of our patients come from word of mouth.”
However, new patients also come from referral sources. “We have good relationships with other state agencies, with local hospitals,” Dr. Ducate told AT Forum. The vast majority of the 4,000 Hartford Dispensary patients were referred by these sources, she said.
Stigma From Families
One of the specific barriers for younger patients is their families, said Dr. Ducate. “There’s a lot of stigma attached to medication-assisted treatment, and younger patients tell me that their families believe they’re just substituting one drug for another.” But with so many patients failing at inpatient treatment for opioid addiction, and overdosing after they are discharged, that standard is starting to change.
Hazelden, formerly a drug-free stalwart, changed its policy in 2012. It added buprenorphine to its treatment regimen when it realized that so many patients were relapsing and overdosing. Other former drug-free programs have followed suit. However, they do not generally ascribe to “maintenance” on a long-term basis, and rather view buprenorphine as a temporary medication that the patient can taper from within a few months.
Inpatient Methadone Induction
Inpatient methadone induction may be a better solution for some patients, according to Dr. Ducate and Mr. Rhodes. Although it had been standard across the country for patients to be detoxified on an inpatient basis, and then sent to drug-free treatment, this has resulted in so many failures that officials are reconsidering.
For example, the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services now allows inpatient programs to treat patients with methadone. “Then they refer them to us,” said Dr. Ducate.
CRC also provides and promotes inpatient methadone maintenance, which can help patients in the induction phase before transfer to an OTP.
Some OTPs have groups just for young people, said Dr. Ducate, noting that this kind of support can be helpful. When young people can bond and be guided about the value of medication-assisted treatment, it can help them resist pressure from their families to “get off” methadone. Groups for family members can be helpful as well.
The bottom line for OTP marketing: if you help your patients navigate their care, despite stigma, making it easy for them to get treatment, word will get out.