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  • Writer's pictureTom Matte

The Three “Ps” of Clarifying Your Mental Health Target Audience

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

With the business of healthcare referrals and reimbursement rapidly evolving, mental healthcare marketers need to keep refining their key audiences, keeping healthcare decision makers top of mind. While studies show many hospital and treatment center marketing budgets tend to be heavily slanted toward healthcare professionals who are referral sources, it’s increasingly important to make sure you devote adequate attention to the three “Ps”: Professionals, Patients, and Payers.


Referral sources are always key; staying top-of-mind with those on the front-line in treating mental health or addiction crises goes without saying. That can include such diverse clinicians as community therapists, psychiatrists, ER doctors, pain management specialists, support group leaders, pediatricians, and primary care physicians, among others, depending on your areas of specialty.

Increasingly, though, especially in mental health and addiction, a doctor’s referral is only part of the equation. This fact was highlighted in Medical Marketing & Media’s 2017 Healthcare Marketers Trend Report. Decisions are driven by complex, interrelated factors that also include patient preference and payer networks, and these audiences may require very different marketing tactics.


Patients and their family members now play a much more active role in their mental healthcare decisions, and a non-medical consumer looks at treatment center choice through a completely different lens than a clinician. When my own son needed treatment for opioid addiction, my wife and I researched top facilities, but we were also very concerned with our family’s comfort level with the treatment center and its employees, and how our family would be involved in the process – something that might not make the radar of a clinician looking purely for the best medical help.

Or consider an executive voluntarily seeking treatment for severe depression. Such a consumer might find an upscale facility that markets to a professional client with more financial options appealing. Today’s healthcare consumers and their loved ones demand a more active role in decision making with their doctors, and may even refer themselves for services. Marketing programs targeting their interests and needs should be a vital part of your marketing efforts.


"Of course, at the end of the day, he who funds the bill gets a critical, if less visible, seat at the healthcare decision table."

Payers will be much more attuned to your outcomes data and cost efficiency than your warmth and ambiance. And the realities of the health insurance industry today mean that if you’re not in an insurer’s provider network, the preferences of the patient’s and providers won’t amount to all that much.

Many payers still don’t cover or only partially cover a number of mental health issues. For my son, we actually chose a treatment center outside of our network. After reviewing a number of options in Georgia his mother and I made the decision that Blue Ridge Mountain Recovery was the right choice. It was based on a tour of the facility, overall cost, and my past experiences. It was the right decision for our family but came at a significant out of pocket cost. They worked with us on pricing and payment, but treatment isn’t cheap. Not everyone will have the same options as we did.

As the healthcare landscape evolves, it’s critical for mental health marketers to stay focused on the interrelated factors driving decision-making and communicate in a meaningful and targeted way with their very different audiences. Staying relevant will mean clarifying who your target audiences are and continually assessing and addressing the relationship between market realities, consumer interests, and mental health trends. With that clarity, you can develop on-point, personalized marketing efforts that appeal to the needs of your specific decision-making audiences.

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