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Multicultural markets offer wealth of opportunities


Half of the U.S. population will be part of one racial or ethnic minority group or another by 2050, presenting both challenges and opportunities to optometrists nationwide. It definitely won’t be business as usual.

Half of the U.S. population will be part of one racial or ethnic minority group or another by 2050,1 presenting both challenges and opportunities to optometrists nationwide. It definitely won’t be business as usual.

“There are tremendous opportunities for culturally-sensitive care,” said Kirk Smick, OD, FAAO. “It’s a changing world out there, and we need to get with it.”

Dr. Smick invited optometrists to look at the math. The 46.7 million Hispanics in the U.S. today represent 15% of the population, and by 2050, this number will swell to 132.8 million, or 30% of the total population.1 That means more than 172 million new eyes. Other minority groups will follow suit. Asian American buying power, which is $509 billion today, will be $752 billion by 2013.2 African-Americans are expected to grow from 14% of the population today to 15% in 2050.1

Serving these discrete business segments will require an open mind, market research, and cultural sensitivity, said Dr. Smick. He is well qualified to discuss all three in his role as chief of optometry services at Clayton Eye Center in Morrow, GA, a rapidly growing multicultural market south of Atlanta. The practice employs 107 people, including 13 doctors.

The greatest barrier to multicultural business is lack of awareness, said Dr. Smick: do minority groups even know you exist? To answer the question he separated the business into in five distinct parts: pre-visit outreach, reception, eye exam, dispensary, and post-visit outreach.

First, size up your market

Start with a demographic analysis of the community and any competition, he said, and then buy advertising in media that is specific to each minority group and subsegment. A Laotian Web site will not necessarily be read by Cantonese people, even though both are Asian. Ads can take the form of education and can be as simple as postcards highlighting eye health needs.

Don’t be shy about using the clinic’s storefront to present images of diverse patients, including signage in non-English languages. This can be carried over to the Web site and to voicemail.

Don’t be shy about using social media, either, he said. Minority populations use social networking sites like Facebook more than the general population. LinkedIn and Twitter are very popular among Asian-Americans, and Hi5 is used by nearly 30% of the country’s Spanish-speaking Hispanics.3 Hispanics are 17% more likely than the average consumer to build or update a personal blog.4 African Americans have found their collective voice through Web sites such as BlackVoices.com and BlackPlanet.com.5

Racial and ethnic minority populations are also heavy users of mobile phones, which can be useful not only for appointment reminders but for eyewear promotions, Dr. Smick added.

Stay ahead of the curve

If all of this leaves you feeling dazed and confused, get help. “Hire a social media expert,” said Dr. Smick. “Just remember, no one uses paper newsletters any more.”

Clinics should not assume that their staffs have cultural or linguistic competency. Dr. Smick recommends educating them in competency because diverse groups are very loyal to companies that make them feel comfortable.

It’s not a bad idea to hire a staff that reflects the community’s diversity. Multicultural hires can be a valuable investment, and incentive programs should be detailed to encourage the staff to bring in patients from their particular groups.

Once patients are in the door, the practitioner should remember that every ethnic group has its own cultural standards, which must be respected. Physical closeness, hand gestures, even eye contact can mean very different things to different populations. In the Hispanic community, a degree of formal politeness is often appreciated-for example, Mr. Gonzalez vs. Edward. Also, the Hispanic patient may prefer to sit beside the doctor rather than opposite.

Dr. Smick suggests hiring a consultant here, as well, to evaluate or monitor the practice and often to create a special staff manual or workshop.

“Incorporate diversity into mission statements and strategic planning,” he said. “Make it a core objective.”

Small physical touches around the practice can have large effects: ethnic décor on the walls and popular magazines in non-English languages in the waiting area will make members of minority groups feel more welcome. Point-of-sale materials in non-English languages are available from many suppliers or can be produced locally.

Every minority group has specific eye concerns. Hispanics have higher levels of diabetes and hypertension and suffer more diabetic and hypertensive retinopathy.6 They also suffer from pterygia, cataracts, open-angle glaucoma, and macular degeneration.7 African-Americans are five times more likely than Caucasians to have glaucoma8 and also commonly develop cataracts, diabetes, and hypertension.8 Sickle cell disease, which affects one in 12 African-Americans,9 can lead to vision problems and blindness. Asian-Americans often have myopia and angle-closure glaucoma.10 They may develop Type 2 diabetes late in life,11 and they develop tuberculosis more commonly than the Caucasian population,11 leading to ocular tuberculosis.

“Get active in your community,” Dr. Smick said in conclusion. “Adapt to the changing world.”ODT


1.      Minorities expected to be majority in 2050. CNN.com. Aug. 13, 2008. www.cnn.com/2008/US/08/13/census.minorities/#cnnSTCText. Accessed April 8, 2013.

2.      Asian Americans on the Road to Retirement. The Prudential Insurance Company of America. Newark, NJ. 2010. http://research.prudential.com/documents/rp/AsianAmericansontheRoadtoRetirementFINAL.pdf. Accessed April 8, 2013.

3.      Internet and Social Media usage among U.S. Hispanic Moms: Executive Summary. Latinum Network. Bethesda, MD. October 2010. www.latinumnetwork.com/attachments/Documents/Latinum-Moms_Cohort_Social%20Media_Executive_Summary.pdf. Accessed April 8, 2013.

4.      Nielsen Finds U.S. Hispanics Tops In Mobile, Social Activity. TechCrunch. April 20, 2012. http://techcrunch.com/2012/04/20/nielsen-finds-u-s-hispanics-tops-in-mobile-social-activity. Accessed April 8, 2013.

5.      Fabris, M. Special Report on Multicultural Marketing: Market Power. Target Marketing. North American Publishing Co. Philadelphia, PA. May 2008. www.targetmarketingmag.com/article/focusing-your-message-african-american-market-98162/1#. Accessed April 8, 2013.

6.      Tienda M, Mitchell F, editors. Hispanics and the Future of America. National Research Council Panel on Hispanics in the United States; Washington, DC: National Academies Press (U.S.); 2006. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19899. Accessed April 8, 2013

7.      My Eyes & My Ethnicity: Health Issues For Hispanic Americans. Transitions Optical Inc. 2013. www.eyeglassguide.com/my-eyes/ethnicity/hispanic.aspx. Accessed April 8, 2013.

8.      Glaucoma. Sight & Hearing Association. St. Paul, MN. 2013. www.sightandhearing.org/sightcenter/glaucoma.asp. Accessed April 8, 2013.

9.      Sickle Cell Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Atlanta, GA. 2011. www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/sicklecell/data.html. Accessed April 8, 2013.

10.     Reducing Risk of Glaucoma. Lighthouse International. New York, NY. 2013. www.lighthouse.org/eye-health/prevention/reducing-risk-of-glaucoma. Accessed April 8, 2013.

11.     Asian American Populations. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office of Minority Health & Health Disparities. Atlanta, GA. www.cdc.gov/omhd/populations/asianam/asianam.htm. Accessed April 8, 2013.

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