- Some centers that treat people with eating disorders are using questionable financial enticements to get patient referrals, The New York Times reported.
- Perks include all-expense paid trips so providers can check out their facility and offers to lunch and cocktail receptions.
- The eating disorders industry has grown from 22 programs a decade ago to 75 today, fueled by the Affordable Care Act and other reforms that increased mental health coverage.
While residential treatment centers can cost $1,000 a day or more, there are few studies showing they are effective. At the same time, the aggressive marketing raises concerns they could take advantage of vulnerable patients and families.
“Although facility standards are being established for residential treatment, there is still no industry consensus about either the care components required to accomplish treatment goals or benchmarks for assessing quality of care,” wrote Evelyn Attia, professor psychiatry and director of the eating disorders program at Columbia University, and four colleagues in an article published in the journal Psychiatric Services.
They urge greater transparency about financial relationships between these centers and referring physicians, which are reminiscent of drug industry tactics before financial disclosures were required.
“[M]any behavioral health clinicians may not recognize how aggressive marketing strategies employed by treatment programs an influence both referral patterns and the perception of care provided by the treatment center,” the authors wrote.
Full financial disclosure about free meals, educational offerings and travel should be available to patients, families, and medical colleagues, the authors add.