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Healthcare marketers must better address the needs of multicultural consumers

Addressing the unique needs of multicultural audiences is a substantial opportunity

As more healthcare providers are coming around to the ways of consumer-centricity, it’s also time to act upon the fact that when it comes to healthcare consumers, “one size fits all” definitely does not apply. In fact, recent research illuminates the vastly different approaches and needs of multicultural healthcare consumers, specifically those in Latino, African-American and Asian-American households.

According to Gartner’s Iconoculture research, failing to effectively engage multicultural healthcare consumers represents a missed opportunity of $1.3 trillion in healthcare spending.

According to their 2018 report, Healing is Believing: “As the population trends towards a minority majority, it’s become clear that a total market approach will not work. Selling healthcare isn’t the same as selling cereal; the stakes are higher, and products, services and messages must be anchored in an understanding about distinct cultural beliefs across ethnic backgrounds.”

Latino, African-American and Asian-American healthcare consumers often feel misunderstood by providers. Overcoming barriers to these consumers seeking care from us starts with better understanding of and empathy for their perspectives and needs.

Latino consumers are seeking personal, “culturally competent” healthcare relationships

According to Advisory Board, Latinos are not only the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S., they are also growing faster than any other group as healthcare consumers. In fact, they spent 62 percent more on healthcare in 2015 than in 2010.

The ideas of Familismo (strong family loyalty) and Cultura (strong traditions and beliefs) shape Latino expectations for their healthcare experiences, according to Iconoculture. They expect healthcare interactions to include a humanizing or meaningful connection to community and culture, and to be personal and relatable. Communication that is too cold and clinical may prevent them from feeling understood, seen and heard.

To improve communication with Latino consumers, emphasize relationships. Acknowledge their culture and community to position the healthcare relationships you are offering as truly caring.

Advisory Board research also supports the need to deliver a more “culturally competent care” experience, suggesting that Latino patients may have a negative experience if care is not tailored to their needs. The most commonly cited reasons for their negative experiences are: 1) care is too rushed and impersonal; 2) doctors are not respectful or culturally sensitive; 3) privacy is not protected. High-impact cultural training can often address these issues, according to the report. It also highlights the need to provide translation services and translated materials (which sounds incredibly obvious … and is not being done by all providers.)

African-American consumers distrust the healthcare system and need advocacy

African-American consumers often distrust the healthcare system, as is well documented in research and recent articles about healthcare disparities. According to Iconoculture, 20 percent of African-American consumers have avoided seeking care due to concerns about racial discrimination. This is not terribly surprising, in light of these facts:

African Americans face a greater risk of death at almost every stage of life compared with other American racial and ethnic groups. (National Medical Association)

African-American mothers are three times more likely to die from childbirth complications than Caucasian women. (Iconoculture)

African Americans account for 12 percent of the U.S. population, but make up only five percent of clinical trial participants. (National Medical Association)

As a result, African-Americans are often more open to integrative health alternatives, or take it upon themselves to treat health concerns, based on Iconoculture research.

On a positive note, they are also more focused on staying healthy; in fact, 75 percent of African-American respondents claimed to be taking some action to stay healthy, compared to only 52 percent of non-African-American respondents in the NMA’s African American Health Engagement Study. This research also highlights the fact that African-American consumers said that they place their highest level of trust in medical organizations focused on African Americans.

Our net takeaway is that providers must work diligently to help African-American healthcare consumers feel included, valued and safe. Therefore, much of the challenge for us in healthcare marketing is to actually demonstrate that we are focused on African-Americans’ health. Let’s demonstrate that we are advocates on their behalf, so they don’t feel they have to go it alone.

For a brilliant and inspiring example, watch this Kaiser Permanente Thrive commercial called “Find Your Words,” Created to help fight the stigma around seeking treatment for depression in African-American communities, it is well worth the 90 seconds.

Asian-American healthcare consumers want specificity and cultural relevance

In keeping with their values of expertise, ambition and excellence, Asian Americans seek specificity in health and quantitative ways to achieve and measure it, according to Iconoculture. They have a predisposition to trust and comply with the healthcare system, and view doctors as qualified sources to give them health “grades.”

However, their desire for certainty and specificity sets up an expectation that can be challenging for providers to meet. We can envision some possible solutions here, such as well-designed and digitally-delivered “health analytics” reports featuring patients’ key health tracking data, that create a far better experience than the typical post-visit summary or patient portal.

As with Latinos and African-Americans, much of creating relevance with Asian Americans comes down to actively demonstrating that you see them, hear them, and care about them.

An example of this is Holy Name Medical Center in New Jersey, which launched its Korean Medical Program about a decade ago. Observing that Asian Americans have the highest mortality rates for liver and stomach cancer, they hired Korean-speaking staff, introduced Korean food to the cafeteria, and rolled out screening programs, educational lectures and other resources. In essence, they built a relevant experience and programs completely around Asian Americans.

How can we roll out the “welcome” mat?

A “sad but true” fact: so often in healthcare marketing today, reflecting diversity means making sure we are making the right choices of who is featured in our imagery. We need to work together to do better … far better.

We need to stay in close touch with the unique experiences and needs of a more diverse set of audiences.

We need to create and deliver communications specifically for them.

Providers need to launch experiences and programs that solve their problems and make them feel valued and included.

At the end of the proverbial day, we all just want to feel seen and heard. Let’s make sure our healthcare experiences, marketing and communications actually see and hear our varied multicultural audiences.


Sue Spaight is the Director of Insights and Strategy at Core Health, Core Creative’s specialized healthcare marketing practice. Core Health connects its clients with solutions that help their audiences live fuller, healthier, more purposeful lives.


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