First they killed diamonds. Then they went after nightlife. Now, they’ve started on healthcare.We’re talking, of course, about millennials—poised to become the largest and arguably the most influential generation alive today. According to Dhaval Dave, a professor of economics at Bentley University, they’re more connected than previous generations, more technologically savvy, and more diverse in their backgrounds, interests, and lifestyles. Darshana Shah, a professor at Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, said they’ve also grown up surrounded by technology and the information it provides—“the world is at their fingertips” and, thanks to social media, more interactive. “The highlight of the millennials is that they are collaborators,” she said. “They are often more comfortable in group activities than flying solo.”
All these differences mean that millennials go about most aspects of their lives—healthcare included—a little, well, differently.
An unconventional approach
A recent Kaiser survey found that 45 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 didn’t have a primary care provider, compared with 28 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds. “The conventional model of delivering health care…seems to have been rejected by millennials,” Dave said over email.
That’s not to say they’re neglectful of their health. Instead, Dave said, “they want care efficiently and fast, and are more likely to obtain it through non-conventional sources (walk-in clinics, retail pharmacies, online experts, urgent care facilities, etc.) than their older counterparts.” Dave pointed out that millennials, used to having information at their fingertips, are also more likely to self-diagnose, have medical wearables, and use AI. In addition, he said, they have a broader definition of “health,” one that includes “healthier and more active lifestyles in addition to treating disease and morbidities.” Shah said they’re also more open to homeopathic remedies and other alternatives.
And they’re cost-conscious. 54 percent of millennials would avoid getting medical treatment because of costs, and 46 percent said they’d switch healthcare providers to get care at a lower price. According to PNC, 41 percent of millennials request cost estimates before receiving medical treatment, compared to 21 percent of baby boomers. “Many of them have just entered the workforce or have student debt,” Dave pointed out.
The highlight of the millennials is that they are collaborators. They are often more comfortable in group activities than flying solo.— Darshana Shah
Professor, Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine
So they’re visiting walk-in clinics, comparing costs, pursuing alternative medicine, and doing their own research. But it’s not just about convenience or money. A 2016 survey> found that only 58 percent of millennials trust their doctors, as opposed to 73 percent of the general population. And a more recent survey found that 55 percent of millennials think that online health information is as reliable as what they’ll get in a doctor’s office.
Technology and transparency
How to reach out to millennials? Dave says healthcare will need to be more convenient and technologically savvy, providing care through telehealth and communication through digital media. We’ll have to broaden our idea of health to include things like more physical activity and less loneliness—as insurance companies have already begun to do. And, as Shah explains, doctors will have to be aware that their patients have already researched their systems online and know both the conventional treatments and the alternatives. Patients will have “a lot more options,” she said. “We’ll have to train future doctors to be aware of that.”
According to Dave, healthcare organizations will need to become more transparent about both their costs and the quality of care they provide, which means that they’ll need to grow accustomed to public physician ratings and customer satisfaction surveys. They’ll need to use online forums and social media platforms to reach out directly to a millennial audience. Shah said that providers and vendors should find ways to embrace millennials’ collaborative spirit. “Vendors will have to build really interactive social media platforms,” she said. And because millennials prize giving and receiving feedback, “the feedback loop has to be built in at every level.” Millennial patients will want to evaluate their doctors, but they also want to hear about how well they’ve adhered to instructions and how they’re doing more generally.
“Given that millennials—the largest growing segment in the workforce—place an especially strong weight on these aspects, the healthcare industry will need to figure out how to innovate in order to provide better value to these consumers,” Dave said.
In other words, the millennial generation may be different, but that doesn’t mean that healthcare is. Like diamonds or nightlife—or any other industry—we need to focus on accommodating this new, more diverse, technologically savvy generation.♥
Talya Meyers is WELL’s Health Editor. Talya began her career in academia before transitioning to writing full time. She has written for Smithsonian Magazine online, BBC Future, Refinery29, and the Los Angeles Times, among other venues. She is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley and Stanford University.