Google has unveiled a practical strategy to sift out deception in addiction treatment advertising. Starting in July, the only entities in the market permitted to bid for digital AdWords will be those that have obtained certification through a monitoring firm.
While the move isn’t entirely surprising—Google announced a temporary halt on AdWords last fall—the diligence of the new policy might be more than many anticipated. LegitScript, the Google partner that vets merchants prone to predatory practices, such as online pharmacies, will approve applications and continuously monitor advertisers.
LegitScript worked with the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) to create the 15 certification standards and determine which organizations qualify. But there’s still room for adjustments, according to officials.
“We understand the big picture here is to protect the consumer and keep the bad guys out,” says Marvin Ventrell, executive director of NAATP. “That is the primary objective. And to the extent that we can achieve the objective and not overly burden the good provider with standards and an application process that is unduly burdensome, that’s what we’ll do.”
Ventrell tells Behavioral Healthcare Executive that if some NAATP members believe the certification process is too onerous or too expensive, they should speak up. The association has it on good faith that Google and LegitScript will refine the policy to fit the industry’s reality. While laying the groundwork over the past several months, NAATP and other industry players scrapped some of the initial requirements because they were too demanding, Ventrell says.
The application is quite thorough, however.
Information on everything from licensing to domain name ownership to disclosure of facility addresses is required. Criminal background checks for the owner and key staff will be conducted, and clinical competencies will be documented. Interestingly enough, if a provider offers medication assisted treatment, it must note that. However, use of pharmaceutical-like products not approved by FDA, such as kratom, will result in application denial.
Any type of patient brokering, including offering free travel to a potential patient, will also result in a denial.
Treatment providers and certain non-professional support groups qualify for certification. But for now, sober homes aren’t included. A different set of standards seems to be on the drawing board to address those categories in the future.
Because the certification will need some real-world flexibility at first, LegitScript will limit the first class of applicants to 30 organizations while also offering a waitlist. Evaluations begin next week, but monitoring of treatment providers will continue even after approval.
Certification will cost just under $3,000 for the initial year with renewal fees of about $2,000 in subsequent years. Ventrell says the fees might be offset by the fact that the AdWords costs might decrease. In other words, by eliminating the aggressive profiteers from AdWords bidding, the market price might correct itself.
“The cost of AdWords under the prior reality was so high that this should pale in comparison,” he says. “We can’t predict what the market will do, but it’s certainly possible that those exorbitant AdWords prices, that quite frankly precluded the little guy, could go down significantly.”
It’s important to note that the certification only applies to AdWords advertising. Organic search engine optimization and Google Maps will remain in place.
“At some level, we have to accept the reality that because the bad guys came in, there is some unfairness in this, and we have to jump through these hoops,” Ventrell says. “There is no other way.”