The prescription for Latino health communications

There are more than 50 million Latinos in the U.S. now comprising 17 percent of the U.S. population. Government, private healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies recognize the growth of the Latino community and are launching communication campaigns specifically targeting this demographic. If your organization is thinking of launching a health-related communications campaign targeting Latinos, here are a few factors to take into consideration:

1. Latinos have a greater risk of developing certain chronic conditions/diseases than non-Latinos:

Multicultural outreach Healthcare PRWhether conveying the benefits of buying health insurance, building a health awareness campaign or deciding which pharmaceutical products should be marketed, communicators must have a working knowledge of the specific diseases and conditions that especially affect Latinos. Chronic illness such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease are more prevalent among Latinos. Latinos are also more likely than non-Latinos to suffer from MTHFR Polymorphism (a genetic mutation that affects women in pre-natal stage). Additionally, Latinos are more likely to have more children and younger families and, thus, the pressing need for a pediatrician. These statistics appear to be true regardless of the level of acculturation and country of origin, so an awareness campaign targeting Latinos for these conditions should include both recently-arrived immigrants and the more acculturated generations.

2. Latinos are less likely than other groups to have regular access to a physician and seek health information elsewhere:

The Latino population has the least access to healthcare than all other ethnic groups, and 31 percent of Latinos are uninsured.  For healthcare providers, this presents an opportunity and a challenge. Because many Latinos do not have easy access to quality healthcare, they often rely on other sources to obtain health information and treatment. Some Latinos, especially recently-arrived immigrants, may prefer to visit the curandero or folk healer. Advertisements for curanderos on Spanish-language radio and television are common.  Curanderos are less costly than doctors, are very popular and, for many immigrants, are part of the traditional Latin American culture they left behind. Others may turn to a Latino pharmacy or “Pharmacia,” a store that sells a combination of mainstream pharmaceutical products, religious relics, and non-traditional natural and herbal remedies – and sometime houses a low-cost health clinic with health information and treatment.

Given the lack of healthcare access among Latinos, many also depend heavily on media for information about health, with more than eight in 10 Latinos claiming they receive health information from a source other than a medical professional, (such as the media). Nevertheless, health professionals are highly-respected in the Latino community and because many Latinos are not able to see a doctor regularly, television campaigns featuring a bilingual medical spokesperson familiar with Latino health issues are likely to be successful. Case in point is a nutrition education campaign we conducted targeting Latinos and addressing the specific health issues affecting them – in this case, the health risk of hidden sodium in foods. We engaged a highly-regarded Latino nutritionist spokesperson to convey health messaging during targeted TV appearances in markets with high Latino populations. The campaign resulted in high brand recall and spokesperson recognition.

3. Latinos’ family members have great influence:

Research shows family unity as the most important value in Latino culture. Latinos tend to have larger families than non-Latinos, are likely to live closer to family, and frequently visit extended family members such as grandparents, aunts and uncles. These extended family members are also likely to be influencers or even decision makers. Given this closeness in Latino families, healthcare communicators should keep in mind that the target of a healthcare or pharmaceutical campaign should not only be the patient but also other family members such as children and grandparents. It is not unusual to see in some Latino immigrant families that children, including teenagers and young adults, are sometimes involved in their family’s decision making process serving roles from translators to actual decision makers when selecting health plans. Children’s/grandchildren’s  advice is sought as they are more likely to better understand the plans and how the U.S. healthcare system works, generally, from their experience in the U.S. school system. Given the involvement of the younger generation and their engagement in social media, an organization looking to raise awareness among Latinos should consider launching a website and incorporating social media as part of any campaign. At the same time, traditional media should remain a communications component for the older generations.

4. Latino communication needs to be culturally relevant – and informative:

Most of the health information available to Latino patients doesn’t take into consideration health issues prevalent in the Latino community, factors that affect Latinos such as high levels of un-insured and Latinos’ cultural beliefs or sensitivities. It has been my experience that the most successful health campaigns are those that seek to inform and gain the trust of the Latino community rather than just sell a solution or a pharmaceutical product. One of our most successful campaigns was a health awareness campaign of a genetic mutation impacting the absorption of folic acid in Latinas in prenatal stage. The campaign included the launch and promotion of a bilingual website providing scientific information in a patient-friendly manner combined with a media relations campaign featuring television appearances with OBGYN and researcher spokespeople familiar with studying and treating Latino women who suffer from this condition. The campaign’s strategy was to first establish credibility, and then offer a solution to address the health issue.

The time to communicate healthcare information to Latinos is now. It is estimated that up to seven million Latinos could benefit from the passage of the new healthcare law, The Affordable Health Care Act. A significant number of potential new healthcare consumers will be looking for a new healthcare plan and physicians, and they will have easier access to medication.

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