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Why and How to Keep in Touch with Alumni and Patients Who “Graduate” from Your Program

Graduates of your drug and alcohol or mental health disorder treatment program have achieved incredible strides. It’s essential to see that value and what it means to your treatment program. A behavioral health practice can benefit from keeping in touch with these graduates in many ways. Alumni also benefit by simply remaining connected to treatment when they need it.

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What Is an Alumni Program?

An alumni program enables people who’ve completed treatment within the behavioral health program to return for care and simply remain connected with the recovery team. There are various ways to build such a program, and finding the proper approach for your treatment center requires consideration.

Examples of alumni program components include:

  • In-person meetings: Choose the frequency that’s best for your alumni. Meeting once a month may allow just enough opportunity to reconnect and remain rooted in the therapy provided.
  • Volunteer opportunities: Alumni programs may include a volunteer component. This program allows a graduate to come back to sit in meetings to contribute. They may become a mentor for those just starting on the path to sobriety. Structure the volunteers in a way that works for your program and therapists.
  • Periodic check-ins: Sometimes, alumni programs provide basic services. These services may include phone calls, emails, or encouragement to come in for a chat every few months. It’s a type of reminder to the patient of what they’ve accomplished and shows that you care about their long-term success.
  • Events: Many organizations plan special alumni events throughout the year. These events may include touching base during the holidays when some patients may be more at risk. Sponsored events may encourage alumni to come back for a meal or engage in group therapy.

An alumni program is an opportunity for people who have battled addiction or mental health disorders to get help later if they need it. In addition, it’s an opportunity for them to remain connected to the core values taught during therapy. Utilizing this program may be critical to creating long-term success.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes 40 to 60% of people with substance use disorders will relapse. An alumni program can help to keep your graduating patients from returning to drugs or alcohol.

Why Alumni Programs Are Valuable to Patients

With such a high potential for relapse, providing tools to help alumni remain on their treatment path is not only essential to the ongoing treatment plan, it is simply good business. When patients do well, behavioral therapy programs may thrive as well. Some potential benefits of an alumni program for patients include:

  • Maintaining a connection: Those with a substance use disorder or mental health disorder may struggle to find people to connect with outside of treatment. Alumni share an important connection and a unique bond created as a result of chronic disease. One of the best ways to get meaningful empathy is to turn to people going through the same struggle. This connection may prove vital to some.
  • Motivation to remain on the right path: People surrounded by others and supported by therapists may be more likely to remain in recovery than those with limited active motivation. Alumni programs may also keep patients accountable to attend meetings, or check in with mentors, even if that’s just once a month.
  • Understanding addiction’s changes: Addiction and mental illness impact many parts of a person’s life. Having another person who understands this and offers tips and strategies for overcoming challenges can prove vital to recovery.
  • Keeping in touch: Making new friends and working with therapists on an ongoing basis helps a person avoid self-isolation. It’s a way to be a part of a community and feel valued as a person even when reacclimating to daily life can be challenging.
  • Relapse prevention: During these opportunities to come back and get care, alumni benefit from educational opportunities, sober activities, developing coping strategies, and building a sober lifestyle. For those with mental health disorders, alumni gain confidence through problem-solving resources and reassurance.

To rebuild a life after behavioral therapy isn’t easy to do since many people feel alone in their battle. However, with an alumni program, it’s possible to transition back into life with some backup, resources to guide when there’s a problem, and someone to call when a breakdown occurs.

Finally, alumni programs create a fellowship that’s often difficult to find anywhere else. Connecting individuals helps spur inspiration and show others it’s possible to live a long, healthy life without substances. Incorporating a mentorship program within an alumni program may further this benefit by providing specific resources in fellowship for those most at risk.

The Benefits of an Alumni Program for Behavioral Health Practices

Alumni programs provide treatment centers with several core benefits when the program is appropriately implemented and then effectively managed with care. First, these programs are flexible in terms of their services, allowing treatment centers to select those services they can accommodate. The key is consistently providing access and remaining in contact with alumni to ensure participation.

Some of the core benefits to the behavioral health practice for an alumni program may include:

  • Builds reputation: People who are supported and have access to mentorship programs are more likely to reach out to friends and family also struggling with addiction or mental health disorders to encourage them to receive care. An alumni program helps support a positive reputation when it offers a constant way of remaining connected. An alumni program can be an added benefit of working with one provider over another.
  • Evaluation of therapies: The use of alumni programs may help foster opportunities to monitor, track, and evaluate therapies provided to patients over time. Done properly with a comprehensive software solution that can easily track and monitor patient success, alumni program engagement allows therapists to see what’s worked the best across a larger group of patients. This may allow for changes in the care provided when trends in success are noted.
  • Creates volunteer and employment opportunities: Many new clients struggle with becoming acclimated to the behavioral health environment, especially in residential treatment programs. Having successful alumni provide mentorship and support provides a first-hand look at the possible success. That may help to foster success and encourage new patients to remain in treatment longer. Seeing another’s success showcases the possibilities the therapists may provide. SUD treatment facilities frequently employ former patients in an environment that they are comfortable in, who may otherwise struggle to find employment.

Building credibility may aid treatment providers in helping more people by encouraging those in need to reach out for support. It also may help attract talent looking for a more holistic program that provides care to patients long term.

How to Set Up a Rehab Alumni Program

Alumni program creation takes an understanding of the treatment program’s goals, benefits, and opportunities. It also requires careful attention to detail, so having a strong software platform in place to help build and manage this type of program and an alumni network is critical.

The first step is to outline the details of the program. Then, ask questions of alumni and work with therapists to gain insight into the options and advantages of any specific type of alumni program feature or tool. Here are some core questions to ask:

  • How often will alumni members meet? Where will it take place?
  • What will happen during meetings? Will they include activities, group therapy, mentorship opportunities?
  • Who will lead the alumni program within the organization? This may take more than one person to manage. Will all therapists engage over time or just one or two?
  • Will a buddy system or mentorship program be a component of the alumni network? If so, determine candidates within the alumni network who may be ideal for starting the process.
  • What types of events will take place, and how often? Monthly socials, outings, dinners, or other types of events may be an option but should be planned for early on.
  • What type of budget is allocated for the alumni program? Assess needs and goals within the program to develop a cost structure.

How to Keep in Touch with Past Patients

The success of an alumni network is based on former patient participation. Encouraging people who may be struggling with their mental health to engage isn’t easy. Connection and communication are critical aspects of an alumni program, but that doesn’t mean therapists need to be on the phone with their past clients daily to encourage them.

Connect as patients are leaving treatment

When patients begin the transition out of the routine treatment phase of their care, encourage them to become a part of the alumni network. Provide concrete steps for them to do so. That includes when and where to go and what to expect.

Create a campaign to bring back past patients

At the start of the alumni program, begin by reaching out to patients who may be most likely to engage, such as those who may already come in to volunteer or those who graduated in the last few months or years. Connect with them over the phone, email, or online.

Use a CRM tool to track and communicate

A customer relationship management (CRM) tool may help streamline the process and reduce time spent connecting with alumni. Search, filter and export contacts right in the CRM, in addition to tracking all of your communication outside of the platform.

Utilize email and text message marketing

While remaining focused on compliance limitations, create an email marketing campaign to bring alumni into the program. It takes simply gathering email addresses for alumni (or using other types of communication tools such as SMS) and inputting them into the CRM. Then, emails that provide information about meetings, promotional content to encourage engagement, and updates to patient care are easily sent to alumni.

In all communication methods, be clear on what the alumni can and should do. Tell them why they should participate in an alumni program. Provide specific instruction on how to participate in programs, whether online or in-person. Use email to educate them about these opportunities over time to reengage when an alumni member seems to fall off with communication.

Develop resources

Connect with people in multiple ways, including through high-quality content and resources. A simple blog can help people to remain in connection with their team. Develop a website that provides “how-to” information, so they know how to engage. Spend some time putting together e-books to help foster success in recovery.

Use social media to expand patient reach

Focus on connecting with patients, but also use social media as a way to educate the community about the program. Social media can boost credibility and the practice’s reputation. Develop relationships with those who have completed treatment on social media and encourage them to continue sharing and communicating. It may also be helpful to use social media to share content.

Educate providers

It’s critical to have tools in place to make the establishment of the alumni program as easy as possible for providers. That means they should have resources such as the following to support them:

  • A step-by-step guide to adding patients who complete treatment to the CRM’s resources so automated emails and messages can be sent
  • Encourage them to speak directly to patients during their last few sessions about the program, creating an opportunity to spark the conversation about what it is and how it works
  • Use software tools to help them manage alumni participants, including tracking any concerns or insights that may be valuable.
  • Encourage providers to reach out directly through phone or other methods to those they think would benefit from the program.

Each component of this process relies on consistency. Setting up a system to manage the entire process makes it easier to maintain it long term. Getting those first few participants may be the most challenging.

Managing the Rehab Alumni Program Over Time

A structured program is necessary for success. To achieve this, consider the following:

  • Create a marketing plan: Build a marketing campaign about the newly developed alumni plan, focusing on its benefits to patients and past clients. Work to get community support and recognition for this new offering.
  • Create an email management system: Done within the software programs already used, email marketing helps keep alumni in touch. Create automated messages that will be sent out once a provider notes that a person has completed treatment and may be a candidate.
  • Create private groups: On social media or other forums, connect with people on a routine basis about the services that may be available. Simply create ways for alumni to reach out to therapists or the alumni program management team. Be sure they know how to ask questions and get into the program.
  • Invest in telehealth: In a time of pandemics, alumni networks may not be as safe as virtual care. However, telehealth services can create a cohesive and easy way to connect with alumni members from their smartphones. Telehealth keeps alumni programs engaging with virtual meetings and may allow those otherwise unwilling or unable to come in for sessions to remain connected.
  • Set up the process and management: Establish who is responsible for managing the onboarding of new alumni. Build requests for access to the program. Be sure there’s someone to oversee requests for joining the program.
  • Facilitate a mentorship program: Mentors provide real-life experiences to those within the alumni community, providing support and direction to those who need it. Create a buddy system (connecting one member to another) initially when mentors may not be readily available.
  • Build an activity calendar: Be sure there’s always a list of things that are planned accessible by alumni members. Keep them looking forward to new opportunities.

How Sunwave Can Help Make an Alumni Program a Success

Sunwave offers a comprehensive software solution that allows behavioral health practices to connect with, monitor, and manage clients. An alumni program may be built right into the system allowing for efficient communications management, tracking patient care, and automating many of the services needed through patient engagement. Telehealth services are also integrated, enabling providers to constantly remain connected to their clients even when they cannot come in for care in person.

Sunwave’s solutions help support:

  • Proper compliance management by keeping all confidential information safe and inaccessible to those who should not have it
  • Build an email list and marketing campaign within the system to connect with alumni networks on an ongoing basis
  • Manage medical records, including tracking the success of therapies and patient care

Learn more about how Sunwave can help you build a strong, beneficial behavioral health practice brand. Speak with one of our team members today.