Engaging with Hispanic Members: Why Cultural Adaptation of Content Wins Over Direct Translation Every Time

February 13, 2020 Mara Jimenez

Hispanics are the largest minority in the United States, accounting for 18.1% of the U.S. overall population and 25% of the Medicaid population. Hispanics also have unique characteristics and health behaviors that are based on their cultural beliefs and their previous interactions with other health care systems.  This has a direct impact on the way health plans communicate with this segment of the population to address their health.

For example:

  • Statistically, Hispanics are less likely to go to the doctor until they are very sick.
  • Hispanics have higher rates of ER utilization than other demographic groups.
  • Latinas have higher rates of cervical cancer, in part because many don’t get preventive screenings.

Many health plans would like to engage with their Hispanic members and encourage health behaviors that could lead to more positive outcomes. But this isn’t always easy. The first thing they should acknowledge is the fact that Hispanics speak a different language. When it comes to messaging, doing direct translations is not effective – it leaves the message flat, with potential misinterpretation. To effectively engage with the Hispanic population health plans need to take into account all cultural aspects, including their communication style, besides language.

In this blog post, we’ll explore why applying cultural intelligence and cultural adaptation to member communications is the best approach.

What Is Cultural Intelligence?

Cultural Intelligence is the ability to thrive in multiple cultures. Knowing a language doesn’t necessarily mean that you know the culture. When you know a language, you can talk with and listen to someone. Knowing a culture enables you to start creating relationships.

We have to remember that people see the world through their own cultural lenses. This is as true in healthcare as it is in any other domain. The best way to drive behavior change that could lead to more positive outcomes is to understand the culture and apply those concepts to your communications. Things like members’ beliefs, values, customs and expectations of the healthcare system.

Hispanics living in the U.S. represent over 16 different countries. Although there are cultural nuances from one nation to the next, there are also certain commonalities that appear with consistency in most communities. For example:

  • Family and community are important. Hispanics are a collectivistic culture. They like to do things and make decisions together. It is important to make sure this concept is embedded in your message.
  • Hierarchy and respect: People with authority are highly respected. For example, healthcare providers and doctors especially, are viewed as authority figures. Thus, Latino patients will tend to demonstrate respect for doctors. They may be hesitant to ask questions or raise concerns about a doctor’s recommendations, being fearful that doing so might be perceived as disrespectful. So it is important to build and inspire trust to communicate effectively.
  • “Personalismo” refers to the emphasis on personal relationships and the sense of courtesy and politeness. Hispanics like to build relationships and interact on a personal level. Healthcare providers should demonstrate ‘simpatía’ and ‘personalismo’ which translates into “formal friendliness.” A physician should be attentive, take their time, show respect and if possible, communicate in Spanish.

 Five Tips for More Effective Communication with Hispanic Members

With the idea of cultural intelligence in mind, here are five ideas that health plans can use to communicate more effectively with Hispanic members:

  1. Design campaigns targeted to Hispanics. Instead of directly translating existing communications, you may want to create a campaign targeted specifically at Hispanic members. That may mean addressing a different design to meet the specific needs of this population and/or using different channels of communications.
  2. Remember that members may need help navigating the system. In Spanish, the words for “urgent care center” and “emergency room” mean exactly the same thing. Hispanic members may not be using urgent care centers simply because they don’t know what services they provide. Member communications should take factors like this into account.
  3. Design communications that will resonate with members from “high context” cultures. Hispanics belong to high context cultures, which is a style of intercultural communication. A high-context culture focuses on collectivism, non-verbal communication, emphasis on visual, contextual elements and maintaining harmony in relationships. When creating member communications, use emotions and warmth in the content and incorporate visuals. It can also be helpful to get endorsements from a well-known celebrity or individual who is respected in the community.
  4. Culturally adapt content so it’s meaningful to members. These are some key questions to ask when designing Spanish communications: Does the content convey the same message in English and Spanish? Does the message resonate with Hispanic audiences in the same way that it resonates with English speakers? Is the content actionable? Make sure that whoever designs your Spanish content is a bilingual, native speaker who knows how to apply cultural intelligence to member communications.
  5. Think about the entire member journey. Make sure the member’s interaction is not interrupted abruptly. If you provide a website or resources, have them available in Spanish. Keep in mind that some Hispanics prefer to complete complicated transactions either in-person or over the phone.

Overall, effective member engagement requires cultural competency, as well as language proficiency. To learn more about how HMS Eliza’s Health Engagement Design team and the Hispanic Communication division can help, please contact us.

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