The Importance of Cultural Competence for Health Plans

translation for health insurance form

Covered California: Marketing mistakes hurt Latino enrollment

Why is cultural competence important? Ask Covered California about their experiences rolling out health plans to the states Latino population. They made a series of mistakes that were easily avoidable with the most basic cultural adaptation of their marketing campaign. Here’s a run down of where they got it wrong.

Issue One:

Covered California assumed that the Affordable Care Act provision, that no one can be denied health coverage based on a pre-existing condition, would be important to the Hispanic community. They made it a selling point in all of their Spanish ads. Unfortunately this didn’t resonate with Latinos who had never had insurance and had never considered buying it.

Issue Two:

Covered California ended their TV ads with a web address only. The Hispanic community prefers to shop for a complicated product like health insurance in person. Hispanics are on the internet in ever-growing numbers but they don’t transact on the internet.

Issue Three:

Instead of culturally adapting ads that were created in English, Covered California chose to only translate, and the ads fell flat because they lost the meaning and the feeling of the original English versions.

Covered California could have avoided these issues with a cultural assessment of their marketing plan, website, broadcast and print ads. Instead of assuming that a basic translation would be adequate, Covered California could have taken the time to understand how their marketing and advertising campaigns would be received by their intended audience and revised them accordingly. The lack of cultural competence when communicating with the Hispanic community contributed to an ineffective and costly marketing blunder instead of an opportunity to engage with the largest racial/ethnic group in California.

What is the difference between cultural competence and cultural adaptation?

Cultural competence is a measure of the ability of an individual or organization to interact effectively with people of different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. Developing cultural competence results in an ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures. Integrating cultural cues is a vital part of culturally competent communications designed for multicultural audiences.

Cultural adaptation is how you put this into practice. Unlike translation which is the process of translating words or text from one language into another or transcreation which is usually limited to adapting copy and messaging, cultural adaptation goes further by paying close attention to non linguistic communication through concepts like heritage, beliefs, traditions, socio-economics and behavior.

Cultural adaptation for healthcare communications begins with an assessment of the source content from the cultural viewpoint of target audience to determine where there may be issues. Problems are red flagged and a report is compiled with suggested changes to the source content. When the appropriate changes are agreed upon the content is adapted and the cultural adaptations incorporated. Cultural adaptation can ensure that your messages are meaningful and are presented using cultural references and role models that your intended audience will identify with and messages they will act upon. Cultural competence is critical when marketing budgets are tight and don’t allow the creation of multiple campaigns tailored to specific cultures. By understanding the importance of cultural competence and through the use of cultural adaptation, a general marketing campaign developed in English can be adapted so that the campaign goal is met across markets, without creating individual campaigns locally.

Covered California is just one example of how very important cultural adaptation is when communicating with a multicultural community. A thorough analysis of messaging and adaptation to the target culture can be the difference between a successful campaign with optimal engagement and one that completely misses the mark and alienates your organization from a very large and growing population of potential members.

About Andrea Duarte

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