Millennials lead telehealth trends (and signal what’s next)

September 17, 2020 - by Aisling Carroll

The audible sigh from the corner of the waiting room. The exaggerated shifting in the chair.

The head shake at no one in particular. And finally, the drafting of a biting online review or tweet about the long wait, before they have even left the room.

In poll after poll, year after year, tech-savvy millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) have said they are over the waiting room. This includes the time and money needed to get there and the hours of missed work, not to mention the scramble for childcare. Eighty percent of new moms are millennials.

Millennials and telehealth were a thing before the pandemic

The time-consuming and sometimes inconvenient nature of in-person care is a key reason why 20- and 30-somethings were the most likely generation to have swapped the doctor’s office for their couch at home and used telehealth even before the pandemic, according to Amwell’s Telehealth Index: 2019 Consumer Survey.

Millennials continued this trend during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when as many as 80 percent of all appointments were cancelled.

According to WELL Data Analytics Team, which analyzed appointment data from 116 hospital systems, adults ages 40 and under had the highest overall telehealth adoption rate. They also continued to use virtual care for 20 percent of all appointments through mid-June 2020, twice the rate of other age groups.

If the largest generation (millennials) continues to drive healthcare decision making for themselves, their children, and increasingly their aging parents, telehealth will stick around long after the pandemic.

So what else do millennials want? Because what they pine for is what health systems will ultimately need to pony up.

Some healthcare disruptors have ruminated on this, and as a result, begun to appeal to them by:

Expanding availability for faster access

“Saturdays.” This was the one-word answer 38-year-old Mitch Lao* gave when asked why he chose a walk-in urgent care clinic over a visit to his primary care doctor.

Only 40 percent of millennials would tolerate a wait of more than one day to receive care for something like the flu, according to a 2019 Primary Care Consumer Choice Survey conducted by The Advisory Board.

Take a millennial mom who is growing increasingly anxious about her toddler’s climbing fever at 3:30 a.m. She might have to wait five hours to talk to someone in a doctor’s office. Or she could download the Teladoc app and “talk to one of our doctors right away by phone or video,” according to the provider’s site.

Although drop-in retail clinics like Walmart Health do not tend to provide the 24/7 accessibility of some of these telehealth apps, they are open longer hours and weekends compared to traditional practices. And millennials, dubbed “the drive-through generation,” love the convenience.

According to a 2017 Blue Cross Blue Shield study, “Young adults are frequent users of retail clinics, visiting almost three times as much as older patients, even though older age groups use more healthcare overall.”

For health systems looking to care for more millennial patients, leaving more slots open can increase your ability to offer same-day appointments. Better messaging and bumped up branding around this faster access might raise awareness so you can go toe-to-toe with these fast-growing apps and clinics.

Staying in close digital touch

What are nails on a chalkboard to millennials? Phoning to schedule an appointment. Scrounging around for a pen to fill out a paper form. Fishing a bill out of the infrequently checked mailbox.

These digital natives want to tick off these logistical to dos digitally, and they’re even willing to pay to not make phone calls and mess around with paper.

Disruptors like Teladoc listened. In addition to its online features, the app provides a proactive steady stream of update messages, such as, “Dr. Ortega is reviewing your lab results.” After all, if a millennial’s burrito place keeps them abreast of their order, they assume their medical provider will too.

Health systems can employ texting and messaging through patient engagement providers like WELL to deliver what millennials expect: real-time, personalized and two-way communication.

Posting prices clearly

The poorest and most price-sensitive generation, millennials are nearly twice as likely to request and receive healthcare estimates upfront (41 percent) as baby boomers (21 percent), according to a 2015 PNC Healthcare survey. That number will likely increase in the wake of stand-out millennial unemployment numbers and millions losing their health insurance.

To help millennials anticipate what their care will cost and appeal to their strong desire for transparency and comparison shopping, many disruptors post their prices online, such as CVS Minute Clinic.

Interestingly, more expensive disruptors geared at millennials do too. Newcomer Parsley Health, which provides holistic in-person and online physician care, has a clearly marked “Plans & Pricing” tab on its main menu. Prices range from $175 to $250 per month.

Health systems that post their prices will likely win favor with millennials for transparency, even if the costs are high. Like Parsley Health, you may want to emphasize the quality of your clinicians and care to set your health system apart.

Delivering heaps of quality information and content

“I’m like a detective,” said 28-year-old Christina Merry*, describing her approach to ailments. As do many millennials, she scours multiple online sources, including YouTube, WebMD and Healthline, for health information before visiting a doctor, if she visits one at all. She believes her DIY research is faster, easier and cheaper.

In a bid to become the trusted go-to source for a millennial like Christina, health systems and disruptors have been generating content (e.g., Facebook live, podcast) that aims to provide answers to searchers’ health questions.

But what some disruptors like hers, a telemedicine company for women’s health, does differently is to delve deep. For example, its comprehensive blog post “Birth control effectiveness: which method is best?” clocks in at some 2,500 words.

By providing clinician-approved information on each method, the post does not leave readers wanting. This quality content may shape a positive view of hers and encourage social shares.

Health systems, however, can compete by prolifically producing detailed doctor-led content that strengthens your reputation among millennials.

Doing good

Millennials favor socially responsible organizations. So when a disruptor like Hurdle, which provides culturally sensitive self-care support and teletherapy for the Black community, says, “We are here to help,” millennial ears perk up. In response to COVID-19, the startup offered to cover clients’ first out-of-pocket session.

Of course, traditional health systems do good often. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to remind millennials of all the extra you do on Instagram or Facebook. After all, that’s what they’re hanging out, writing reviews, absorbing information and shaping the healthcare horizon. ♥

*names changed where noted to protect patient identities.

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