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The Hispanic Factor


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-04-01-2008
Volume 0
Issue 0

What Big Pharma needs to learn-and value-about this rapidly growing US demographic

It's no secret that the Hispanic population in the United States is growing by leaps and bounds. Today, Hispanic people make up 14 percent of the population—that's 44 million Americans. And according to a US Census forecast, Hispanics will compose 25 percent of the population by 2050. To effectively market to the ever-expanding Hispanic community in the United States, pharma companies must understand and respect certain cultural insights and differences. This involves much more than just translating materials into Spanish. It begins with understanding the differences in the US Hispanic population's demonstrated overall behavioral patterns in relation to healthcare and addressing potential barriers in marketing materials in order to improve relevance, compliance, patient care, and corresponding prescriptions. [For the purpose of this article, we will use the term Hispanic to indicate immigrants of Hispanic origin as well as US-born individuals of Hispanic descent.]

Jane Finney

Cultural Differences

Pharma marketers and healthcare professionals must take acculturation into consideration when designing marketing materials for Hispanic consumers. Acculturation is the degree to which an individual from another culture has assimilated into the dominant culture of his or her new home. Hispanic individuals who are foreign-born and emigrated to the United States as adults tend to maintain their home language and home-country beliefs and perspectives. But a person of Hispanic descent born in the United States is likely to be far more acculturated, even if he or she is steeped in the cultural traditions of his or her immigrant parents or grandparents.

With respect to the burgeoning US Hispanic population, the less acculturated the individual, the more likely he or she is to have a lower level of education and income and, in the case of health and wellness, a curative versus a preventive approach to illness. He or she is more likely to use home remedies and herbal cures versus OTC and prescription drugs. And religion, spirituality, and fatalism probably play a more important role with regard to his or her health.

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According to the National Council of La Raza, "the strong religious convictions among many Hispanics have led them to believe that life and health are controlled by divine will, fate, and the environment, generating a sense of personal powerlessness." Many Hispanic immigrants come from societies in which divine will was frequently presented as an explanation for tragedies and societal inequities. Fatalism ("fate decides, not me") remains a strong tenet in the Hispanic community, where the group is traditionally valued over the individual and religious sentiment is often strong.

In this context, many Hispanic immigrants don't feel that their US healthcare providers understand the needs of their community. They may say, "They don't understand my language. They don't understand my culture. They don't understand my needs. They don't understand me." According to the "Latino Medical Report" in Latino Perspectives magazine (June 2007), one-fifth of Spanish-speaking Hispanic people in the United States say they forgo medical treatments because most doctors can't communicate with them or don't understand their culture. We recommend that our clients have a toll-free number with a live operator who speaks Spanish. For highly sensitive issues like health, a "real person" interaction is key.


It Takes a Village

Given this environment, few disagree that more in-language and culturally relevant healthcare education is needed, especially for the less acculturated Hispanic immigrants. But in order to educate effectively, it is also important to understand the cultural framework for decision making in the Hispanic community. Reports the National Council of La Raza primer Latino Health Beliefs: "When ill or injured, Hispanic people frequently consult with other family members.... Important decisions are made as a group." The less acculturated the person, the more important the role of the familial network is to guide and determine healthcare courses of action, especially since there is less in-language access to health information. Therefore, educating the community around the patient can be enormously critical to affecting the actual patient.


Within the Hispanic community, healthcare education can be more effective when it is presented in a clear problem–solution format. What we have found useful is the visualization of discomfort with a linear path to the resolution, with an emphasis on the emotional benefit of relief. Clear visualization of symptoms and graphics to illustrate efficacy can also help, particularly for individuals not yet conversant in English. In one instance, we found that a simply illustrated chart showing a cross section of the body and how it was affected helped communications with the patient.

Keeping communications simple, clear, and concise also helps establish credibility, a key to building trust, which is paramount with the Hispanic consumer.

A direct call to action also can help produce the desired outcome. For example, in a commercial spot for one of our clients, different people in the sufferer's circle of family and friends emphatically tell him, "This isn't normal. Go to the doctor."

In addition to the classic in-office materials for physician and patient, we have learned that office staff should also be kept in mind when developing material. Often doctors rely on their staff to provide language support and further explanation of diagnosis and instructions for compliance. In many offices, particularly in areas with high Hispanic-immigrant populations, a Spanish-speaking staff person is called in to talk to a Hispanic patient who has been struggling to communicate. Keeping this office staff in mind when creating a DTP communications program can help with the ultimate success of the effort.

Moreover, materials that involve the family in the compliance of the diagnosed patient can be useful. A board game or interactive cards can engage the family in a familiar and accessible way to learn about issues that otherwise might not be considered if they were presented in a conventional medical context.

Considering the current challenges facing the pharmaceutical industry (regulatory constraints, drug development costs, patent expirations, and lower ROIs), patient loyalty and compliance are incredibly important. By better understanding the rapidly expanding Hispanic market and by tailoring programs to fit this burgeoning population, pharmaceutical marketers can help business performance while improving patient care.

Jane Finney is group account director at Bromley Communications. She can be reached at finney@bromcomm.com

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