The addiction treatment sector is a huge industry but it is not large enough to close the widening gap between the demand and the supply.

While one in seven Americans is at risk for substance abuse, only about one in 10 of them are actually receiving treatment. That means rehab centers fail to reach 90% of those who really need their help. Not only that, every 19 minutes, one American dies due to a drug overdose.

One of the reasons is that there are only about 14,500 drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers in the US, while the number of addicted individuals has already reached 21 million in 2014. Clearly, it’s an uphill battle to reach out to those in need.

The good news is that the healthcare industry recognizes the need for additional rehabilitation services and is doing something about it. Digital ad spending to increase awareness for rehab centers has increased each year since 2016, according to an eMarketer report. In 2018, the total spent is expected to hit $2.84 billion, and this will further increase to $3.14 billion in 2019.

Failing to Appreciate Value of Digital Marketing

Expansion of rehabilitation services is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. The healthcare industry, particularly the pharmaceutical sector, needs to spend more on digital advertising. A study by eConsultancy found that out of all industries, healthcare and pharma have the lowest spend on digital marketing campaigns:

  • Retail services: $11 billion per year
  • Financial services: $6.2 billion per year
  • Automotive: $6.2 billion per year
  • Telecom sector: $5.6 billion per year
  • Travel sector: $4.2 billion per year
  • Electronics: $3.8 billion per year
  • Healthcare and pharma industries: $1.4 billion per year

How to Overturn Negative Perception

There’s a prevailing mistrust of the pharma industry, as a Gallup poll showed back in 2016. More than half of Americans don’t trust pharma companies. Apart from the safety perception, Americans also think that Big Pharma is only interested in profiting off of people in need rather than providing a cure.

Drug and alcohol rehab facilities also suffer from a negative perception partly due to inaccurate portrayals of addiction and the pharmaceutical industry. In general, people are wary of doctors, psychologists, and hospitals. Treatment centers suffer by association.

How to Get the Right Message Across

Rehab centers can benefit from pushing the right message and correcting the negative misconceptions. People think that addiction centers possess a magic bullet — that once patients with substance abuse problems complete a rehab program, they’re cured for life.

The reality, however, is that patients in recovery will likely struggle with their addiction and find ways to cope with that stress all their lives. Relapses are common, even likely. Even after decades of abstinence, with a strong trigger, patients can go back to using drugs or alcohol. This disparity between perception and reality can damage the reputation of rehab centers if even one patient relapses. The message should be that individuals are responsible for their own recovery, but rehab centers are effective tools to support them on their journey.

Not Caring About Metrics

Any digital marketing expert can tell you the importance of metrics to determine the returns on your online investments. Often times, healthcare establishments fail to give value to these metrics because they don’t appreciate the importance of having a solid digital campaign in the first place.

While the implementation of digital marketing campaigns have improved some, it’s been slow-going. At least, healthcare, pharma, and addiction treatment providers now understand the value of promoting a brand and ensuring client satisfaction.

A Disjointed Structure

One of the challenges facing digital marketing for the healthcare industry is the industry’s unique structure. There are two things that are distinct to this particular sector:

  • Highly specialized consumer market. Perhaps the reason why the healthcare industry doesn’t spend as much as others on digital marketing is the perception that it has a wellspring of clients. The addiction treatment sector, in particular, may feel that with more than 19 million untreated addicts out there, there’s still a lot of room for industry growth— enough for every company to make a profit. Also, unlike most industries, it doesn’t feel that it has to look for customers; the customers come to them. This breeds complacency and discourages proactive measures.
  • Revenues don’t come from end consumers. Insurance companies shoulder the bulk of the costs for drug and alcohol rehab centers, so they wield a certain influence over how the centers market their services as well as what particular treatment methods they provide. This not only poses restrictions on pharma companies’ digital marketing strategies but also provides the notion that they do not need to advertise to end consumers.

Data Security

Another reason for the healthcare industry’s digital marketing reticence may be privacy concerns in case of a data breach. Drug and rehab centers are wary about migrating their marketing services online because of the nagging fear that hackers can get into their systems.

Perhaps out of all industries, the healthcare industry has the most to lose in case of a data breach. A lot of patients admit themselves into rehab with the understanding that their privacy will be protected.

If the names of industry clients—celebrities, politicians, and top executives—were published in the tabloid press due to such a breach, it would be devastating to the reputation of these treatment centers. Whether or not such a breach could happen due to digital marketing, it is still a fear.

It doesn’t help that the healthcare industry has already been wracked with major scandals as a result of data breaches. Thus it is understandable that the industry wishes to protect itself from any further blows to make people question their effectiveness and validity.

The Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights has a complete list of cases being investigated as a result of private information ending up in the wrong hands. The biggest so far was the 2015 breach involving Anthem Blue Cross, which affected 78.8 million people.

Thriving Amid the Stiff Competition

Even with the concerns about digital marketing, the healthcare industry stands to gain from boosting its digital marketing spend. A potential 22 million customer base is worthless if rehab centers don’t reach them, and evidently, this is the case. Landing the 2.2 million who actually want to get treatment is difficult if the industry doesn’t get serious about its online marketing spending, but with evolved public perception about rehabilitation and an understanding of the necessity of digital marketing within the industry, we can hope that awareness of rehabilitation services can reach as many people as possible.

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