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Ethical Practice Remains the Foundation to Excellent Care

Good behavioral health treatment is grounded in compassion, professionalism and the highest standard for ensuring quality. The new attention and new dollars that have flowed to addiction and mental health services in recent years have brought many new providers into the community, making it more important than ever to have clearly stated ethical principles guide the direction of the field.


The National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) served as a national leader for values-based care at a time when deceptive Internet marketing and related practices were harming patients and damaging the field’s standing with policy-makers and the public. More than a decade ago its leadership adopted a comprehensive code of ethics “to which all NAATP members must adhere and to which all providers should aspire.” NAATP has since amended the code three times in response to the evolving challenges the field faces.


The NAATP code provisions address practices in the areas of treatment, management, facilities and marketing. The code requires patient involvement in treatment planning and decision-making st all stages of care, mandates transparency in pricing for services, and expressly prohibits the offering or receiving of any financial rewards for patient referrals, the “pay-for-play” practice that placed the field in an unflattering national light.


Some observers might see these as common-sense provisions, but they can’t be taken for granted in an ever-changing industry where new leaders are arriving and new treatment modalities are emerging. NAATP member providers understand that their failure to adhere to these principles could result in actions up to and including revocation of membership.


Other prominent national groups also have decided it was important for their members’ practices to be governed by a set of written principles. In 2016 the National Alliance for Recovery Residences (NARR) established a set of 20 principles for resident-focused operation of sober homes. Ohio recovery home operator Ron Luce told Addiction Professional magazine at the time that “if we don’t come up with a commitment to standards, the states and the federal government will begin to dictate what the standards are, and then nobody will be happy.”


Among the key provisions, the NARR code requires recovery home operators to admit only those individuals whose needs match the home’s available level of support. The codes also mandate that sober homes institute fair and consistent drug testing policies and maintain an environment that promotes the safety of the surrounding community.


Ethical clinical care and operations in the field represent an ongoing journey. A particularly challenging component today involves the booming growth of technology-based tools for recovery support. Because most of the apps in the marketplace do not offer direct treatment, they are not subject to the patient confidentiality requirements that are so highly valued in the addiction treatment community. Also, research has shown that a scant minority of these tools were developed with any basis in science.


Providers also are finding that their ethical obligations transcend the treatment services they were trained to deliver. An emphasis on social determinants of health has providers paying much closer attention to the other factors in patients’ lives that can either fuel or stall recovery. Initiatives in diversity, equity and inclusion are energizing efforts to remove longstanding barriers to treatment among marginalized groups.


NAATP realizes that its ethics agenda doesn’t have an endpoint. As we wrote last month, NAATP leaders see the ongoing Foundation for Recovery Science and Education (FoRSE) Treatment Outcomes Program as a logical extension of the work its leaders put into the ethics code. This mindset also is evident in an agenda for NAATP’s May 2023 national conference that includes multiple sessions on ethics. Topics  including a roundtable discussion of the ethics code and a workshop session titled “Anti-Racism Is Good Business.”


We at Sigmund Software are proud of our relationship with organizations such as NAATP that are committed to the highest standard of professional practice. We developed our enterprise EHR solution because we see this as a path to comprehensive and evidence-based care for each of our clients’ patients. Just as patients and families place their trust in a provider, we want to work with you and understand your needs in a manner that helps us earn your trust.


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