I recently attended the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA) annual conference in Washington, D.C.: "Conquering the Future: Clinicians Leading Latino Health Care". This interdisciplinary conference presents a unique forum for the health care industry, professional organizations, health care providers, local government, and Community Health Workers (CHW) to come together and examine health issues related to the state of Latino health care.
Sessions focused on the intersection between social determinants of health and priority topics specifically aimed at addressing disparities among the Latino community. Some of these issues included:
- exploring novel approaches to improving the management of chronic conditions;
- how to tackle obesity among the Latino youth;
- the rise of HIV AIDS cases among gay Latino men in Miami; and
- the mental health crises in the aftermath of hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, among others.
Despite the different topics covered, difference of opinions, areas of expertise, and interests, there was a common theme for most participants: one group can’t do it alone. Strategic collaborations and effective synergies are essential to improve the quality and access to health care services, and achieve better health outcomes among vulnerable Latinos.
Applying Emerging Technologies
Although technology is attractive to companies and some consumers, it's not a silver bullet. Leaning too heavily on new technologies to help manage chronic conditions can, in fact, alienate certain vulnerable populations who may lack the skillsets to navigate this complex ecosystem. That's because, first and foremost, we must understand how social determinants of health impact the vulnerable populations we serve. For example, we need to ask:
- Are we making sure these innovations are culturally and linguistically capable (is the app bilingual)?
- Do these digital technologies consider technological literacy, access to housing (and by extension, access to an internet connection), language literacy, cultural norms, and social norms and attitudes (such as distrust of certain institutions, companies, and even technology itself)?
One possible solution presented during the conference? Employ CHWs to help bridge the technology gap among older vulnerable Latinos and individuals with low technology acumen.
By collaborating with the developers and social marketing communication experts who have the cultural and linguistic expertise to provide audience insights, develop, and test content, CHWs can help ensure that these emerging technologies are user-friendly and effective. For example, working with CHWs allows us to adapt and translate new complex elements and content into simple, digestible, and culturally appropriate information.
The Role of Health Communicators and Social Marketers
Our teams are already applying these best practices. Our health communications practice works closely with our clients to create synergies with strategic organizations to target the U.S. Latino community. We use traditional tactics and innovative tools to craft precise and culturally appropriate messages and materials that resonate with this diverse population.
- We’ve supported for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Eye Institute to build the capability of nearly 1,100 CHWs on how to use the NEI’s Diabetic and Healthy Eyes Toolkit. Our teams identified, recruited, and engaged local Latino CHW organizations across the country to train them on how to use NEI’s toolkit and resources to educate vulnerable Latino communities about the importance of eye health.
- For the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we are working on a bilingual campaign—Viajo Sin Zika (I travel without Zika)—to engage local organizations to help disseminate the campaign’s messages and materials among Latinos living in Los Angeles, New York, and Orlando.
- For a current Fortune 100 health insurer client, we provide community engagement and media relations support by placing native Spanish-speaking staff members at local community events that are mainly targeted at Spanish-speaking Latinos.
Are You a Part of the Solution?
One thing is certain: healthcare—already a very multifaceted issue—becomes especially complex as it relates to vulnerable populations. The NHMA provided an extraordinary platform for stakeholders to share their knowledge and ideas, while also discussing synergies for new, innovative collaborations. These collaborations have the potential to result in better ROIs, as well as better health outcomes among Latino communities.
Have you developed and implemented innovative synergies and collaborations to improve health care access and outcomes among vulnerable Latinos? If so, let us know on Twitter or LinkedIn, or drop me a line directly by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mariana Eberle-Blaylock, MA, is a Senior Manager - Health Communications at ICF.