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Hispanic Market - This is not your abuela’s healthcare, and it should be

Healthcare needs increase with age, but too many marketers are caught up in the buzz about Hispanic Millennials and youth.

Focusing exclusively on the younger, U.S.-born and acculturated generations ignores a still important — and growing — demographic: their parents and grandparents.

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What’s not for a marketer to love about a fast-growing, underserved demographic hungry for the information, products and services that your company offers? You may want to ask yourself that question if you’re in healthcare and not targeting older Hispanics.

And that’s pretty much everyone in the sector. Pharmaceutical marketers allocated mere 2.5 percent of their 2014 marketing budgets to Hispanic efforts, compared to an average of 8.5 percent across the top 500 U.S. advertisers, according to a 2015 AHAA report. The differences were even more stark in Hispanic media spend. The top 500 increased their investments over five years by more than 50 percent to an average of $14 million in 2014. Over the same period, pharma cut back by nine percent, to $6.3 million.

Whether they believe that “total market” efforts are enough or they fail to recognize the value of the Hispanic market, healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies are missing out on enormous opportunities, not just today but in the years ahead.

That Hispanics are fast becoming the country’s biggest minority group shouldn’t be news. It’s also no secret that healthcare needs increase with age. But too many marketers are caught up in the buzz about Hispanic Millennials and youth. Focusing exclusively on the younger, U.S.-born and acculturated generations ignores a still important — and growing — demographic: their parents and grandparents.

Consider the population trends: In 2015, there were 11.4 million Hispanics aged 50-plus, representing 10 percent of all middle aged and older adults in the United States. As soon as 2020, they will account for 13 percent of the U.S. population. The ranks of older Hispanics — ages 65 and up — are quickly expanding, too, projected to jump from seven percent of all U.S. older adults as of 2010 to 12 percent in 2030 and 16 percent in 2040. By 2050, they’re expected to number 17.8 million, equivalent to one out of five older U.S. residents.

Can anyone afford to ignore as much as 20 percent of their market?

Beyond the sheer growth in numbers, Hispanics are living longer. Unfortunately, they are not living healthier. Compared to non-Hispanic whites, they have higher rates of obesity and a higher prevalence of chronic conditions like asthma, hypertension, arthritis and Alzheimer’s. Type 2 diabetes is a serious and growing problem: one out of three Hispanics will develop it, yet it often goes undiagnosed and is a leading cause of death. Name most any chronic disease and you’ll find the incidence among U.S. Hispanics is disproportionately high.

Behind the poor health statistics are factors like unhealthy eating habits and sedentary lifestyles. Low incomes, little to no savings, high poverty rates and low rates of insurance prompt many to forego doctor’s visits, medication and other care. As of 2011, only 12 percent of older Hispanics had Medicare and they are more likely than other groups to rely on it exclusively.

Older Hispanics tend to be Spanish-dominant, with limited computer proficiency and Internet access. Given the digital divide, they don’t readily seek out health-related information online, and are often unaware of existing programs and support that could
help them.

And Hispanic older adults don’t perceive that the sector is talking to them. The wealth of information and advice on healthy living, prevention, disease management and treatment options that exists in the market today is not getting through to the very people who need it most.

The remedy goes beyond language. Even for service providers equipped to deliver in Spanish, the knowledge and culture gaps can be huge. Companies willing to engage Hispanic adults in culturally appropriate ways and in Spanish are the ones that will both foster better health outcomes among this demographic and benefit over the long term.

What are some of the cultural pitfalls? The increasingly business-like nature of U.S. healthcare can be alienating to older Hispanics who perceive brisk American efficiency as disrespect. Those with limited formal education do not understand the basics of the U.S. system. And these older adults need more time and repetition to grasp new concepts — from medical protocols to dietary recommendations — another challenge in a results-driven environment.

There are other cultural considerations to take into account. Hispanics deeply value and cultivate personal relationships with physicians, who are regarded as trusted advisors to the patient and the whole family. They also rely heavily on other healthcare professionals such as pharmacists, and their social networks, especially families.

Indeed, the care of older adults is very much a family affair. An estimated 36 percentof all Hispanic households are caring for an elderly parent or relative. Homebased caregiving is a deeply-rooted expectation, and the primary caregivers, most of whom are women in their mid-to-late forties, are less likely than non-Hispanics to describe their situation as stressful or as a burden. They consider it a source of personal and emotional fulfillment and an important responsibility that brings families together. This means that efforts targeting older Hispanics should have multigenerational reach.

The strategies for combatting the negative trends and disparities in Hispanic health are multifold. But first, healthcare and pharmaceutical companies must recognize one thing: an important population has been excluded from critical conversations. Companies must re-think and redesign their marketing to patients, caregivers and healthcare providers in order to improve the standards of care of today’s older Hispanics and the well-being of the generations to come.

Katie Mahony is a Senior Client Lead at Chandler Chicco Agency, part of inVentiv Health.
Cynthia McFarlane is Chief Strategy Officer & Managing Partner at Newlink.

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