Kantar Health Blog

On the Information Highway – Latin Americans Connected

by Linda Verplanck | Dec 6, 2011
Linda Verplanck

Just the other day I left my house without my mobile phone. It took about 3 minutes to figure it out and about 3 seconds for me to begin feeling a sense of panic! 

It is truly amazing how the mobile phone has become so essential, yet it wasn’t long ago that it was just a functional and novel part of our lives. In Latin America, this phenomenon has a slightly different side - one in which "functional" never had much of a consideration. With the emerging middle class in the region and a larger younger population than many other parts of the world, the mobile device has been essential from the get-go and, in many ways, bypassed the stage of being functional. No wonder Latin America is the second largest market for mobile devices. While many Latin American countries have an excellent Wi-Fi structure, the price of laptops is out of the average person’s price range. Therefore, the mobile device is the laptop of the masses, as I’ve seen from Mexico City to Sao Paolo to Buenos Aires. But this isn’t just happening in the megacities; it is also in small towns throughout Central America. I’ve personally seen “smart boredom” many times while standing in line at the grocery store in a small town in Nicaragua: People texting, checking soccer scores, or just surfing the Internet.

What are Latin Americans actually doing and reading on the Internet? I don't pretend that they are all spending time accessing information on healthcare, because they’re not. While the vast majority of time is spent accessing time-shifted TV, Internet banking and location-based services, health and wellness information sources are just now beginning to be accessed. This is definitely a trend that will continue.

So what will be the impact on healthcare and subsequently healthcare companies in this emerging region? Several companies have already started exploring ways in which they can engage with Latin American patients online and/or via mobile phones. Some of these companies already have implemented programs.

An excellent example can be found in Brazil with Roche. Roche has a strong digital marketing plan around the treatment of acne. Aside from using Twitter, YouTube and blogs, Roche has created a website called CUCAS, which stands for (translated) Classmates United Against Acne. This interactive site provides education, suggestions on managing acne and advice on how to speak to dermatologists. It also has a social aspect – their own social community that connects via Facebook.

BD (Becton Dickinson), in Mexico, has a site for diabetes care that provides educational information on managing diabetes from diet and exercise to injecting insulin, and also provides recipes. It even addresses needs for pets that have diabetes. For those patients who want to know the latest information on diabetes, after signing up, BD pushes news alerts to them throughout the year.

From a different perspective, a pharmaceutical company has been exploring ways to improve treatment compliance via adherence monitoring with an incentive structure. TB patients in Nicaragua have been given encrypted paper microfluidics test strips, and when their medicine has been taken a urine test reveals a code that the patient sends via SMS to a database. Compliance is rewarded with free mobile minutes.

How should the pharmaceutical companies that have not yet started their exploration process leverage the Internet to help Latin American patients achieve better health, control current health conditions and/or care for loved ones? The first step is determining the optimal strategy for patient engagement for the particular condition and region in Latin America. Is it via patient education websites that allow “recommendations” to friends and family? Is it via an online community that involves the patient and the caregiver? These are potentially good options if the conditions do not have a “stigma” associated with them.

How about an SMS messaging community? Or an SMS approach that reminds patients to take medication or check their blood pressure? The answer is not so simple since successful patient engagement requires a value proposition, emotional connection and unbiased educational information.

For pharmaceutical companies that are considering digital engagement programs with Latin American patients but have not yet taken action, it can be quite daunting. But when partnering with an agency that has both the deep local country knowledge and a global strategic mindset, the exploration is seamless and very fruitful. Kantar Health through its partnership with TNS’s local healthcare experts in Latin America offers this rich expertise to help expand your communication with this new patient base. Together we bring a top-notch team that ensures forward thinking and the development of multidimensional plans that address your specific business objectives.

One thing for certain, this is definitely an exciting time for communications within the healthcare industry, and Latin America is the new frontier!

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