Aetna: Building healthy communities, one patient at a time

Engaging its multicultural consumer base has been a top priority for Aetna this year, and the health insurance giant has the best man for the job. Tito Colon,  Aetna’s senior director and head of multicultural marketing, is the force behind the programs that connect the company with the diverse population it serves.

image_00001_v2_400x600The bilingual marketing executive, whose family roots are firmly planted in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is passionate about reaching patients in ways that make them feel they are being addressed directly. “We are carrying out a big strategic effort, person by person, to target different segments of the population and interact with them in order to get best possible outcome,” Colon says. “We want to bring the power of health care to our clients by giving them all the tools they need.”

The Value of Data

In the early 2000s, Aetna started to collect data on the racial and ethnic backgrounds of its health plan members. Though somewhat controversial at that time, the measure was intended to help narrow the gaps in health care between white and minority clients.

“Gathering data is a very important strategy that informs the way we promote wellness in our communities,” Colon says. “Our previous chair and CEO, John Rowe, was asked point blank if it was racist to collect health data about minority groups, and his answer was that it would be racist not to collect it because such data helps us understand important disparities. The data helps analyze the differences in how white and minority patients receive medical care, like how often the emergency room is visited or the availability of access to specialists. It ultimately helps us develop critical prevention, education, and treatment programs for minorities.”

Aetna Voices of Health

Among the programs that were developed based on the data collected is Aetna Voices of Health, a grassroots campaign conceived in 2011 to recognize and support the agencies already at work in communities that encourage equality in health care.

Colon is especially proud that the program rewards those who fight not only for equality in health care, but for social equality and human rights as well. “This is our way of honoring the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Colon says. “His dream was to empower those who were seeking social justice, and our mission, aligned with it, is to promote access to health care for everyone.”

People from all over the country are encouraged to vote online for the best organization. In the end, there is just one winner, but, as Colon explains, winning takes many different forms.

“All the nominated companies get special websites, media exposure, and plenty of feedback that helps them to improve their performance,” he says. “With this program, we are all winners—the agencies and the people they serve.”

The organizations chosen help people live healthier lives by fighting conditions like asthma, diabetes, and childhood obesity, which tend to affect Hispanics and people of color at higher rates than other segments of the population.

Aetna Voices of Health was recently featured in a documentary on the Fox Business Network, described as being an innovative solution helping to close the ethnic health care inequality gap.

“We want build healthier communities,” Colon says, “and to reach that goal we need to help people understand that health care is not a luxury, but a necessity.”

En Español, Por Favor

Another educational tool Colon created was a video about health-care reform, specifically for the Aetna’s Spanish-speaking customer: ¿Qué son los Mercados de Seguros de Salud?

“I knew the Affordable Care Act was quite a complicated subject,” he admits. “The videos are a way of educating people without lecturing or waving the fingers at them.”

Beyond language, it is a culturally sensitive approach Aetna has been recognized for the effective multilingual support it offers to its customers; the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) named it the best multilingual support center in the world in 2015.

The company’s multilingual capabilities support over two hundred languages including Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, Russian, and Mandarin. But Aetna’s efforts are not limited to translation and interpreting services.

“Our intention is to reach every consumer in their own language, but we go beyond that,” Colon says. “We also provide our team members with appropriate and extensive training in cultural competency, which focuses on culture and traditions as much as language. We recruit people with great language skills, but also who are able to interact in a culturally sensitive way with our diverse client base and understand their needs.”

Que Voten

As a Hispanic leader, Colon highlights the importance of voting as an essential way to deliver the power of the Latino community.
“Exercising the right to vote is the key to making changes for the better,” he says. “We can celebrate our uniqueness and help others understand our culture.”

Nothing comes without effort, he acknowledges, but one can always find the motivation to keep going.

“When life is hard, when you feel you have no support, you turn to your orgullo and fuel it with ganas,” he says.