While LegitScript isn’t wholly reshaping the quality standards for paid advertising in the treatment space, it’s still a much-needed & long-overdue first step in qualifying those who are providing care & providing some transparency for consumers.
In the moment, the decision to seek treatment for substance abuse can be fragile. It’s frightening and uncomfortable enough for someone to admit to themselves that they have an addiction; let alone to admit it aloud to others. Every minor obstacle in the process of calling for help becomes an excuse to put it off for another day.
You know how important it is for your clients to find the help they need quickly and easily. Whether they enter a search in Google, or an ad on their social media feed catches their eye, their first click is crucial — not only from your recovery center’s marketing standpoint, but more importantly, for your clients’ well-being.
When that first click doesn’t offer a clear step forward, the resulting confusion could mean the difference between someone getting treatment and addiction winning out. And alternatively, what happens if there is a clear step forward, except it leads the client in the wrong direction?
As a reputable recovery center, your digital presence is well-intentioned. But the Internet isn’t always a safe source of information. While still a relatively new process, LegitScript certification offers a level of protection that recovery clients need, creating a barrier between those seeking help and the businesses that would exploit their vulnerability to turn a profit. It also ensures that your recovery center — one that will really provide the help they need — gives your clients that essential step forward through effective online advertising.
Let’s go back to where it all began
In September 2017, The Verge ran a chilling story about unethical Internet advertising among addiction recovery providers. People in real need of help were being scammed: Google’s unregulated paid advertising was allowing vulnerable rehab-seekers to be lured into falsely represented treatment services.
Google quickly cracked down. All ads — even those from reputable treatment centers — were blocked from appearing in results for recovery-related searches like “alcohol treatment,” “drug treatment program” or “rehab near me.”
Then, in April 2018, Google announced its partnership with the NAATP and LegitScript — which had made a name for itself in verifying online pharmacies — to create a more trustworthy advertising landscape. Treatment centers can now get certified with LegitScript, which allows them to once again advertise in Google searches. Facebook and Instagram have since adopted similar policies, also relying on LegitScript to verify recovery centers’ eligibility for running ads.
Which brings us to today
A day when you’re reading this blog, wondering whether LegitScript will provide value to your center.
- Maybe you aren’t sure why your recovery center needs these paid advertisements at all.
- Maybe you find the idea that you need to somehow prove your legitimacy off-putting.
- Maybe you’ve looked into the process of getting certified, only to find that the instructions seem complicated and time-consuming.
And maybe you’re questioning if it’s worth the effort. We’re here to confirm that it is.
LegitScript certification is essential
Without these paid ads, your audience can’t find you. There are some other tactics you can use to engage as many people as possible — search engine optimization, ads that don’t use addiction-related language and frequent posts on your social media channels, for example. But these methods are a bit like a message in a bottle: you have very little control over where your posts end up or who they end up with. (LegitScript also looks at your digital presence during your application process, and can deny your certification if they believe you are trying to circumvent their restrictions.) When you want to make sure that you’re reaching the people who need you most, a LegitScript-certified ad campaign is the most effective way.
What’s more, LegitScript certification benefits your clients. When you go through the process of getting certified, you join the ranks of the recovery centers who pledged their time and effort to make the Internet a safer place for people seeking help with substance abuse. We think that’s a worthy cause — so we’ve worked with some recovery centers that recently went through certification, and put together some tips to make the process less opaque.
Here’s what you need to know about getting LegitScript certified
The best place to begin is the list of Certification Standards on the LegitScript website. This page provides an overview of the basic requirements for certification, and will give you an idea of the kinds of information LegitScript will need from you. Most recovery centers have no problems meeting these standards, but find that the challenge with getting certified lies in providing proof — gathering the necessary documentation of permits, licenses and credentials can be tedious.
The application process will thoroughly cover each of LegitScript’s Certification Standards. Along with your application form, you’ll be asked to submit a variety of paperwork and documentation about your treatment center’s operations. The application itself is unclear about the level of detail required, and LegitScript doesn’t provide a point of contact if you have questions. If you’re starting this process feeling a bit lost, you’re not alone — the centers we interviewed were in the same boat. Here’s a few of the obstacles they encountered to save you some time and confusion.
1. The more information you can supply, the better
If you’ve left anything out, LegitScript will reach out with follow-up questions and clarification requests — however, the more this happens, the longer your approval will be delayed. In particular, don’t be tempted to skimp at the outset in areas where you don’t have everything in place. More likely than not, you’ll just need to scramble later in the process to supply what was left out. Consider it an opportunity to get all of your treatment center’s important information organized and up-to-date.
2. Communicate clearly with employees about what you need from them
You’ll be prompted to submit employee resumes and credentials, including licensure for physicians and information about contracted employees. You might find that many of your employees, particularly those who have been working at your center for some time, don’t have the most current information on hand. When requesting resumes and credentials from your employees, be sure to specify that you need updated versions to avoid setbacks.
3. Be prepared to dig into your business’s past
You must be legally registered as a business in order to be considered for certification, and you’ll have to include this information in your application. But you’ll need to go a few steps further, too — LegitScript also requires a rundown of past owners and business licenses, as well as information about any other businesses held by the current ownership. If your treatment center, any older versions of your treatment center or other currently owned businesses have been involved in legal or regulatory disputes or misconduct within the last 10 years, you should be prepared to disclose that information.
4. Get your policies and procedures in top shape
Any business will have P&Ps in place for day-to-day operations, but LegitScript will also want to see written policies for adhering to particular laws, regulations and licenses. The P&Ps you submit with your application should include information about how your center handles kickback statutes, how you manage affiliates and how you comply with requirements for any certifications you have. For example, if you’re accredited to provide intensive outpatient care, you’ll also need to outline your policies for complying with the requirements for that license. Be thorough and do your research to make sure your P&P documents are detailed, accurate and follow up-to-date legal and regulatory requirements for your state and the type of treatment you provide.
5. Transparency is key
One of our sources notes that you should expect the process to feel uncomfortable at times. The company asks for some information that might seem invasive — like lease agreements and employee details — but it’s part of the careful vetting process, and LegitScript doesn’t share private information.
6. Don’t be afraid to be a squeaky wheel
Since you won’t be given a point person at LegitScript, submitting your application can feel a bit like throwing all your hard work into a black hole. But being proactive can help — if you want to follow up, emailing and calling the generic LegitScript contact points can eventually get you some answers. You may be able to get updates on your application’s process, or get details on any extra information you’re asked to provide.
7. Be aware of the costs.
LegitScript does charge an application fee and a yearly facility fee. Current pricing can be viewed here. There are discounts for nonprofits and for treatment centers that operate multiple facilities — if you’re not sure if these discounts apply to you, you’ll need to contact LegitScript to find out. One of our sources noted that the costs, combined with the lack of reassurance throughout the application process, made it especially frustrating and even felt a little manipulative. Their advice? Don’t let it get to you. Once your approval goes through, the up-front costs are worth it to remain competitive in the field.
A few more key points
The whole process takes a few months from start to finish. Once all the paperwork is submitted, your approval can turn around in just a week or two. But gathering everything LegitScript needs and making sure it meets their criteria, and then waiting for them to review it and ensure everything is in place, can take some time. Know that if you haven’t heard any news about your application in a few weeks, that’s normal. Be patient, and be prepared for some back-and-forth to get everything right.
Benefits of having LegitScript certification
1. It boosts your credibility
It should be noted that LegitScript doesn’t make judgment calls about treatment centers based on the quality or type of services they provide. What LegitScript certification really means is that you’re trustworthy — you employ properly licensed providers, abide by local and federal regulations and don’t advertise for services you don’t provide. Clients who find you through Google, Facebook or Instagram ads can click or call without fear of finding themselves somewhere that won’t help them get better.
2. It gives you an advantage
LegitScript certification is a new process, so the majority of eligible treatment centers aren’t certified yet. This means that there are temporarily fewer paid ads out there to compete with. The sooner you get certified, the sooner your ads are reaching your audience — and since there aren’t many targeted ads in front of them at the moment, your treatment center will be one of the first places they consider. There is already evidence that treatment centers are closing due to lack of advertisements — don’t let yours become one.
3. It lets you meet your clients where they are — literally
You “meet clients where they are” on their figurative journey of recovery, but what about meeting them where they are geographically and physically? Having a strong presence across Facebook, Instagram and Google’s paid ad networks helps you put relevant treatment options in front of people who need help and are actively looking. Whether you use paid ads to target your local area, or you take advantage of the digital landscape to reach the type of person you provide treatment for, LegitScript certification is necessary to get your center’s name and services in front of the people that need to see it.
4. It makes you look good to other professionals
Certification speaks to a center’s organizational capabilities. You’ll need to spend time gathering paperwork, undergoing background checks, coordinating site visits and proving your credentials; certainly no easy task, but one that forces you and your team to work together, set priorities and get on the same page. Referral partners (doctors, therapists, addictionologists, etc.) take these qualities into account when considering where to send their patients. This is especially important as LegitScript and NAATP are strict about bonuses and incentives for sales reps, and you’ll need to rely on your center’s merit more than ever.
The digital advertising space for addiction recovery is changing quickly. The bar is being raised, especially considering the NAATP’s involvement in the LegitScript certification process. Treatment centers are being held accountable for the quality of treatment they advertise, and the centers that can’t get certification are getting phased out. Don’t let your treatment center fall behind amidst the shift in industry standards — take the time to get LegitScript certified sooner rather than later.
Co-Authored by: JJ St. Onge and Eric Jacobson