“If your target audience isn’t listening, check to ensure you are speaking a language they understand.”
Consumers today expect and demand more engagement and interaction with brands and services they purchase. In that way they are no longer a traditional audience. However, whether you are a consumer goods manufacturer or a hospital serving a large metropolitan area, you must still generate effective awareness before having the opportunity to engage with your target audiences.
The increasing diversity of the American population makes this point even more critical. American business is starting to understand that generating awareness alone with multicultural consumers is simply not enough. Having or acquiring culturally relevant competency is an important capability organizations must develop to be competitive in this brave new culturally diverse world we now live in. Business success is fast approaching the fork in the road where being culturally polite was the order of the day to a reality requiring authentic multicultural competence in conversation, interactions, investment and full marketplace engagement. However, it is not easy. It requires not just token effort, but dedicated resources focused on market assessment, insights, planning, strategy, training, action and evaluation.
For a basic example, consider how many people in the United States still regard cultures from Central and South America – they usually lump them all together into the “Hispanic population”. However, Central and South America consists of Mexicans, Spaniards, Central Americans, Haitians, Cubans, Brazilians, Columbians and Argentinians to name a few. It is assumed they all speak Spanish because they are south of the US, but they in fact do not – Spanish, English, Portuguese, Dutch, French, Patois, Creole, Guarani, and Quechua are just a few of the languages spoken in South and Central America. There are vast differences in their cultures ranging from the food they eat, the clothing they wear, their livelihoods and the social norms surrounding their interactions and relationships with others.But action upon that understanding is still behind the curve. Authentic multicultural competence isn’t just about creating a picture of diversity, or merely translation, but actually speaking the daily language of the consumer within the context of real life. Taking the case even further, competence means speaking the language of the consumer in a way the consumer wants to hear it. All people want to be acknowledged in an authentic way no matter where they are from. They want to be spoken to in a way that’s relevant to their culture, and their daily life, and increasingly for African Americans and Hispanics, they want to be spoken to in a way that reflects their growing relevance and influence in the marketplace.
Patients are a unique customer – they are vulnerable, in distress, sometimes have few options, and do not feel that they are in control of what is happening around them, even when they do speak the same language the provider speaks. In healthcare, the consequences of cultural misunderstanding can be devastating to patients and their loved ones. Interactions with healthcare employees combined with the environment patients are in can exacerbate these issues in exponential ways, and in turn impair delivery of quality care, effectiveness of treatment, and the patient’s return to a healthier state.
For example, the simple question “what year is it?” and the critical components of that year can be very complex. September 1, 1995 on the Gregorian calendar used by Americans is in the Jewish year 5755 and on September 25, 1995 becomes year 5756. For a Muslim, September 1, 1995 is in year 1416 and does not become a new year until May 18, 1996. For Asian cultures that follow the Chinese lunar calendar, the New Year does not begin on January 1, 1996 but on February 19, 1996 (the Year of the Rat) and is not year 1995, but year 4694.
Understanding the importance of social and cultural influences on very fundamental beliefs and daily behaviors is critical to healthcare competence. A culturally competent healthcare organization considers how these factors interact at multiple levels of the health care delivery system for different patient populations. The manifestation of this is evident from the moment a patient walks in the door through the entire experience that unfolds as they are treated. Some examples include:
- How a patient is greeted,
- How a patient is touched during their initial assessment,
- Addressing elderly persons more formally,
- Communicating to extended family, for adults as well as children, and involving them in interventions and therapies,
- Making sure diet restrictions are related to what the patient actually eats,
- Acknowledging and working with traditional healers,
- Paying attention to the relevant importance of gender interaction from culture to culture,
- Communication of detailed instructions for administering treatments and medications.
The Office of Minority Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last issued National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health Care in March 2001. It provides healthcare organizations with standards and guidelines to follow in creating their approach to providing multicultural competent care.
With the changing demographics of the US population, it is critical for healthcare providers to take action on the fact that all patients do not operate under the same healthcare beliefs and assumptions as patients in the past. Everyone knows this, but one of the big barriers right now is the lack of compelling data showing where and how to segment patients based on ethnic, cultural or linguistic backgrounds to improve outcomes in the first place. Organizations in many industries are wrestling with this – they are not sure where to start or how to do it.
One of our aims at Pathfinder | MPI Consulting is putting our healthcare clients out ahead of the curve that is being created by changing demographics in the US population. We do this by helping them develop holistic programs that work along the entire continuum of patient interaction and care, including
- Targeting and collecting the right data,
- Analyzing that data to discover the insights they need,
- Creating the strategic plans to include the role of culture in
- patient marketing,
- interactions with staff, and
- in diagnosis, treatment, disease management and therapy;
- Choosing the right performance indicators necessary to measure outcomes,
- Building the project management architecture needed for a smooth transition,
- Implementing strategy to make new competencies a reality,
- Managing the transformational change to ensure success.
Our firm’s rich experience in organizational development, human resource development, and employee engagement for healthcare organizations gives us a unique capability to assist clients in this area. Our experience with multicultural marketing and consumer engagement is a unique and powerful lens through which to address multicultural issues in healthcare. Using data-driven strategies to understand behaviors and then measure the impact delivery methods have on patient outcomes is a practice firmly grounded in both fields. As healthcare becomes more and more consumer-centric, that multi-disciplinary lens becomes increasingly relevant.
Maureen Donnellan is Director of Consulting for Pathfinder|MPI Management Consulting, Cincinnati USA. She has 25 years of experience in organizational leadership and development. For more information, contact her at 513.721.6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Pathfinder|MPI Management Consulting 2013.