Melissa Fors on Reducing Stigma with Healthcare Marketing

Melissa-Fors

Healthcare marketing should be a force for good, and nowhere is that more apparent than in efforts to reduce the stigma surrounding substance use disorder. Melissa Fors, Vice President of Marketing Strategy for Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation joins me on Leading with Health to share their groundbreaking work in this area.

Melissa joined Hazelden Betty Ford in 2013 where she leads the strategic marketing department functions. In 2019, Melissa was named Nonprofit Marketer of the Year by the American Marketing Association. Prior to joining Hazelden Betty Ford, Melissa was at UnitedHealth Group’s Optum in a number of marketing leadership roles. Melissa is also a board member of the American Lung Association in Minnesota.

Highlights include:

5:00 – MF: “We’re trying to shift the language so that it’s a ‘person with addiction.’ So you are not your healthcare condition.”

6:00 – MF: “Addiction and mental health are brain diseases. No one questions whether heart disease is a real disease but for so long they have thought of people with addictions as having a moral failing. And that just adds to the stigma.”

8:35 – MF: “Marketing is a lot about visuals and visuals really matter.”

8:55 – MF: “At Hazelden Betty Ford we always focus our marketing on the after. Showing the family that is experiencing recovery from substance use disorder. Not the person or family that is suffering beforehand. Really showing the hope and what can be.”

11:10 – MF: “Families seeking care for substance use disorder are so vulnerable and they can be mislead very easily. And we’ve had issues in the substance use disorder industry for a number of years with really misleading ads.”

12:10 – MF: “It got so bad that Google put a ban on substance use disorder treatment ads. That’s a pretty strong statement.”

12:20 – MF: “Google put in process a certification to make sure that these providers that were advertising on Google were legitimate, were high quality, were ethical. It’s a very stringent certification process. They use the same agency to do their certification that they also use for online pharmacies.”

12:55 – MF: “In our industry, Google now requires you to be certified to be an advertiser on Google.”

15:05 – MF: “We’ve been working very hard to become part of mainstream healthcare. Even your family physician may not get much education during medical school on addiction.”

15:28 – MF: “We do a summer program for medical students where they come and spend a week on our campus and learn about substance use disorder. They meet with patients throughout the week and it really changes them. And I see it as a stigma-reducing tactic.”

15:50 – MF: “Treatment does work and people do recover.”

18:46 – MF: “I think healthcare marketers really have a lot of power in this because the more we can get the message out there that substance use disorder is a disease and educate people on the true science of addiction, and the more we can get more real people telling their stories, we can ormalize this as a disease.”

19:35 – MF: “If we can create these positive conversations, then we are doing our job in marketing.”

20:24 – MF: “Last sumer, our CEO actually testified before Congress about these predatory practices that are happening in our industry. And he was really advocating for change and regulation in our industry.”

20:53 – MF: “It is important for me, as a marketer, to be able to communicate that to families who are looking for help. They need to know who are the ethical, quality treatment providers.”

23:20 – MF: “Marketing really can make a difference in reducing stigma – and not just in addiction but across all of healthcare.”

Leading with Health is hosted by Jennifer Michelle. Jennifer has a Master’s in Public Health and Epidemiology and is a certified EMT. As President of Michelle Marketing Strategies, Jennifer specializes in healthcare marketing. She is on a mission to help women find their voice so they can create a stronger, more responsive healthcare system.