Guest Commentary: Here Comes the ACA and Previously Unengaged Patients—Are We Ready?

Under the ACA millions more people will enter the healthcare market. Who are these patients, and how will you need to change your marketing approach to successfully interact with them?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) will enable millions more people to fully participate in the U.S. healthcare system. This flood of new consumers presents enormous challenges for healthcare professionals and marketers since performance will now be measured and incentivized, and reimbursement will be linked to health outcomes in the treated populations.

Many of the new healthcare consumers are from historically minority cultures and hold views about what illness and wellness mean that are transplanted from their native country or learned from parents or the culture and community with which they identify. Health professionals and communicators need to successfully engage with these ethnic and culturally diverse individuals on their own terms, empowering them to receive and act on needed information to lead healthier lives.

To date, most pharmaceutical communication plans have been designed to reach the “general market”—typically, Caucasians—because this was the largest segment and their insurance plans covered most medications. However, U.S. Census projections make it clear that ethnic segments will soon comprise nearly the majority of Americans. Further, the ACA will vastly expand health coverage for individuals of all ethnicities and cultures as it embraces some 30 million more Americans.

For these reasons, it is imperative that we readjust the way we look at the consumer landscape and create healthcare communications platforms that can meet specific ethnic and cultural targets on their own terms. For starters, we must champion research that looks at each culture’s cues, norms, barriers and motivators that affect participation in healthcare. We need to talk with the right healthcare providers, access knowledgeable patient advocates, bring on expert cultural advisors to our teams and leverage proven programs.

Many of the new healthcare consumers are Hispanic, African American and Asian American, and often suffer disproportionally higher rates of chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and pulmonary disease. “One size” definitely does not fit all in terms of healthcare communications, given the complexity of the health messages. Values surrounding healthcare vary greatly among different cultures and being cognizant of this is crucial. Pharma communications must go beyond the usual “education” initiatives and engage communities broadly to reach patients. Our goals should be to deliver nothing less than healthier outcomes through behavior change and adherence to care—the outcomes that matter most to government, insurers, providers and pharmaceutical companies—particularly under the new lens of the ACA.

Cultural marketing requires in-depth analysis to construct health communications that truly move the needle with audiences, including an understanding of audience information needs, communication styles and media consumption patterns. The good news is that the marketing expenses to effectively reach these audiences are typically more cost-efficient than broad-scale initiatives using general market mass media.

The ROI for multicultural marketing can be considerable for both marketers and for society. The audiences are growing rapidly—one-third to nearly half of our population in some areas is comprised of people of color. The costs of treating populations at risk are substantial for our society. Creating breakthrough health messages is not always an easy task but the prospect of improved health for more people is an incentive we can all embrace. In this new era, helping cross-cultural populations benefit from enhanced health messages should be a focus for marketers, for providers and for payers.

  • Brenda Vega

    Brenda Vega is the Vice President, Business Development and Strategic Planning at Prime Access. She has extensive experience in women’s health and boomer markets having worked on leading prescription, over-the-counter, nutritional, and service brands to reach consumers, the community and physicians.