Healthcare is on the minds of many Americans and the Hispanic experience might be able to provide the solutions that the national conversation on healthcare is looking for. Hispanics as a group, the fastest-growing demographic in the country, provide a wealth of insight into issues that may affect the general population.
Among Hispanics, mothers are the primary caregivers and on the whole, Hispanics do not always turn to doctors for advice. Hispanics are also at higher risk for many chronic diseases, so their health needs are a prescient national concern as their numbers grow. It is important to pay attention to this group’s lack of healthcare access and categorical undertreatment to parse out the reasons beyond economic circumstances that account for comparatively low numbers of access. If we get Hispanics right, soon enough we will treat the healthcare problems of the entire nation.
To address the disconnect between the healthcare industry and Latinos, relevant parties need to grasp the cultural dynamics of Hispanics, that is, how the community connects and lives. This disconnect is informative because the Hispanic community’s ascent in numbers in the country is an opportunity to apply new paradigms of care that may eventually show benefits on a larger scale.
The Hispanic community offers informative insights precisely because of its challenges: despite pockets of poverty that continue to be barriers to access, there are also large and growing numbers of small business owners and an increasing proportion of college-educated Hispanics. Language barriers and how Hispanics have overcome them are another example of how this enterprising community could prove informative.
Hispanics value directness and appreciate being listened to. Their doctor and choice of healthcare is one component of Hispanic personal network-building, going beyond the standard vision of the doctor as an occasional and dreaded part of life or merely a professional service. Platforms that take cues from these tenets of Hispanic life have the potential to translate into effective communication programs.
Speaking the Latino language of family, tradition, and community is vital to harnessing Hispanic media receptivity. Since the language barrier has become less of an issue as more Latinos are born in the US, healthcare providers now need to be in the habit of speaking the literal and figurative language of the populations they serve. The median age for Hispanics is under 28 years old, ten years younger than the median age of the general population. Addressing and understanding Latinos now will result in addressing and understanding a larger future portion of adults, parents, and eventually, elderly Americans.
It cannot be overstated that the Hispanic population is a mix of demography apart from the general market that is continually bucking communication trends in surprising ways. For instance, in a media landscape filled with eulogies for the print medium, Hispanic Spanish-language magazine ad spending is up 29.8 percent through the first half of 2011.
Still, only 5 percent of overall ad spending is currently being directed to this plugged-in, tuned-in group. Additionally, Hispanics are early adopters of technology and report higher tablet and e-reader use than the general population. Who is reaching them and why isn’t the healthcare industry among them? Committing to growing with the Hispanic population is the key to success for products, services, and information. Latino trends today can be seen as the general market of the future.
In a seminal study, more Latinos reported receiving health information from the media than from a doctor (83 percent versus 71 percent). When it comes to their health, Latinos are ready to listen to information and messaging. The question that remains is whether healthcare providers, pharmaceutical innovators, and insurance companies are ready to start talking. While television is the most prevalent media source from which Latinos are receiving their health information, there is an expanding field of channels into which Latinos have been tuned.
Is the healthcare industry prepared to address this large and attentive audience? Given that the prevalent diseases affecting the Hispanic population are treatable (among them type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol) there is a real opportunity to put messaging in place that will inform and educate.
Hispanics are a singular educational opportunity for industries interested in spreading information. Health information is not currently reaching Latinos enough to drive behavior change. They lack disease awareness of chronic disease at early stage causing disease to be diagnosed too late to reduce through prevention. There is also a lack of educational initiatives to promote disease awareness, prevention and treatment measures. As such, Hispanics are largely unaware of chronic disease prevention and are primed to improve their healthcare decision-making.
There are a few key steps that healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies, and industry stakeholders can take to engage Latinos. These steps range from familiarizing themselves with Hispanic-focused research to turning to Hispanic advisory boards. Sharpened listening skills through focus groups, to harkening to best practices in Hispanic-oriented businesses, to incorporating knowledge about the different life stages of Latinos and the nuances those stages imply. Grasping intergenerational dynamics and making key contacts and building relationships with community influencers will also inform and direct the effort to understand Hispanics and healthcare.
In the end, the goals of Latinos and their families are aligned with the ideal of an American Dream: a place where cooperation and progression are embraced and everyone’s opinion is valued. The healthcare industry would do well to recognize the common goals that Hispanics share and build on the similarities. There is a powerful opportunity now to see nationwide health implications by focusing on the issues and habits of the fastest-growing demographic group.
Roberto Ramos is president & CEO of the vox collective, a boutique advertising and marketing agency in New York specializing in the U.S. multicultural and Hispanic market. The vox collective and Cooney/Waters have joined to form Cultúr Health, a Latino health communications service.