By Joe Harpaz for Forbes
You may have seen recent news headlines proclaiming that millennials are killing napkins. Or that they’re ending plastic drinking straws, the beer industry or even homeownership. While these stories may be a bit extreme, there’s no doubt millennials are shaking things up, considering they make up nearly 23% of the U.S. population. Healthcare is no exception, and unsurprisingly, millennials have some pretty strong opinions about what they want from healthcare providers.
The majority of millennials — typically defined as those born between 1982 and 2000 — grew up as digital natives and expect convenience, speed, and transparency from the services they purchase. With these expectations bleeding over into healthcare, millennials are turning the traditional care delivery model on its head. Here are six expectations they have for their care:
1. They Take Care Into Their Own Hands
Millennials see themselves as responsible for their own care and are less likely to rely on a health system they are dissatisfied with. In fact, a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 45% of 18 to 29 year-olds and 28% of 30 to 49 year-olds have no primary care provider (PCP). This is a stark difference compared to the survey’s findings among older generations, 85% of which have a PCP. On top of that, over a third of millennials prefer healthcare from retail walk-in clinics over visiting their doctor’s office.
These statistics foretell of a larger generational shift toward on-demand healthcare, where younger patients prioritize speed of delivery and availability of appointments over the relationship developed with a PCP.
It will be curious to see if, once millennials start aging and experiencing additional health concerns, their attitudes will shift and align with what we see among the boomer population today.
2. They Do Their Research
Considering how many millennials don’t have a dedicated PCP, it’s less surprising to hear that 38% say they trust their peers more than their physician. Additionally, over half (55%) said the information they find online is “as reliable” as their doctor.
In fact, for non-urgent health concerns, millennials are twice as likely as other generations to act on health advice found online, including from sources like social media. Nearly 50% of millennials and Gen-Xers also use online reviews to select care providers, compared to 40% of baby boomers and 28% of seniors.
“Millennials do research and come into our offices more informed about their medical conditions,” says Kim Jenkins, CEO of OrthoSouth. “They’re also researching the physicians and paying close attention to online reviews and social media commentary. When you think about it, this really isn’t so different than what baby boomers do — boomers get insights from their friends and neighbors next door. Millennials get insights from their ‘neighbors’ online. Both groups seek outside opinions, but millennials are drawing from a vastly larger and often better-informed ‘neighborhood’.”
3. They Want Up Front Cost Estimates
Price-transparency is a hot topic in healthcare and millennials are the generation most often attributed as the purveyors of change. A recent survey found millennials are twice as likely as seniors and boomers to request cost estimates before undergoing treatment, often checking prices at multiple locations before making a decision. Unfortunately, upon receiving the bill, over a third surveyed noted it was higher than the estimate and only 8% reported a bill lower than the estimate.
The same survey also found that millennials and Gen-Xers are more likely to forgo care because of the expense. While all age groups thought healthcare was too expensive (79%) and costs are unpredictable (77%), 54% of millennials and 53% Gen-Xers have put off care due to costs. Conversely, just 18% of seniors and 37% of baby boomers have put off care due to high costs.
4. They Want Apps — And Lots Of Them
While this may seem obvious, digital options for patient engagement are a must for millennials. That doesn’t just mean electronic access to their health records, however, or an app for their doctor’s office. While it’s true that 71% of millennials want to schedule appointments through an app, access medical records online or receive automated appointment reminders, 60% also want an option for virtual doctor’s visits and would choose a telehealth visit over an in-person one if given the choice. Additionally, over two thirds would prefer post care follow-ups via email or text message instead of the phone — or even via chatbots like Alexa, who recently became HIPPA complaint.
According to Jenkins, “Convenience, availability, and accessibility are paramount for capturing millennial patients. Online appointment scheduling, easy access to medical records and a simplified communication path to providers are all key elements to meeting the expectations of millennials.”
It doesn’t end there. Jenkins adds, “In addition to convenience, millennial patients are demanding great customer service as well…which they should. Healthcare is a service business. It’s time for healthcare practices to provide outstanding customer service to go along with providing great medical care.”
5. “Healthy” Means More Than “Not Sick”
On average, millennials have a very different definition of what health means compared to older generations. In an Aetna survey, millennials were twice as likely as boomers and Gen-Xers to cite eating healthy and exercising as part of the definition of overall health. They were also far less likely to say maintaining a healthy weight and “not being sick” are a key part of what it means to be healthy.
As part of this, millennials are motivated by holistic and non-traditional forms of healthcare, such as fitness perks and homeopathic medicine, and 71% think of wellness as including both mental and physical health.
6. Shopping for Healthcare Insurance
Consumer behavior applies to “shopping” for health insurance when it comes to the millennial population. When given the choice, millennials prefer to shop online for health insurance, with 55% focusing on cost when selecting a health insurance plan. They are often less brand loyal and would switch plans if it resulted in money saved. When it comes to understanding their plan, from coverage to benefits and their financial responsibility, including how various components like co-insurance, FSAs and HSAs work, they are not so confident. This leaves room for insurance companies and employers to better educate the public.
Even though most millenials feel they have a “positive” relationship with their carrier, with 76% trusting that their insurance carrier has their best interest in mind, confusion is still prevalent. Nearly a quarter (24%) of millennials identify themselves as “customers” of their insurance companies and only 38% correctly identify themselves as “members.” The variations in these mindsets will continue to drive change and shape both health insurance and healthcare industries as a whole.
The Doctor Will Heal You Now…
As the largest generation in the U.S., millennials have a lot of power and influence over the future of healthcare. The non-traditional care models they prefer are rapidly making inroads across the industry, resulting in more digital options for care, an increasing number of retail walk-in clinics nationwide, and a growing number of providers offering cost comparisons up front.
Jenkins concludes, “The changes in healthcare being driven by millennials are long overdue. Today’s patients — millennials in particular – have become more informed and more demanding. Their push for improvements is making healthcare better for everyone.”
Where and how millennials will contribute to the healthcare industry is the $3.4 trillion question and one that we can expect to play out on the debate floor this election season.