Millennials now outnumber baby boomers as the largest living generation in the U.S. Understanding their needs and preferences should be part of any hospital or medical practice’s long-term business strategy.
According to the Pew Research Center, there are now 75.4 million millennials (those ages 18 to 34), compared with 74.9 million boomers. That number is expected to top out at 81 million in 2036 as more and more young immigrants enter the country.
While baby boomers are still the biggest consumers of most healthcare services, millennials are aging and beginning catch up. The move to value-based care and focus on prevention requires providers to understand and reach millennial patients if they want to win their long-term loyalty.
“With patient reviews impacting hospital funding and the rise in competition from patients being able to freely shop around, hospitals and other healthcare organizations need to increase patient engagement and cater to patient preferences,” says Steve Wilson, vice president at software solutions firm Accusoft.
What's a milliennial?
For millennials, healthcare service choices boil down to three factors:
- Convenience; and
- Cost savings.
They want doctor appointments that accommodate their schedules, and they want the option of a conveniently located office visit or a virtual consultation.
In a recent survey by Accenture, 22% of millennials said the healthcare system is inconvenient, versus 10% of baby boomers. In addition, 29% of millennials said they don’t have a primary care or trusted physician that they see, which increased the perception of not being treated well and given convenient options, says Brian Kalis, managing director at Accenture. “It’s both location, as well as I want to be able to get in now in a way that’s convenient with my lifestyle.”
Millennials are also more likely to shop for a physician, and they are more willing to switch if they’re expectations aren’t met — 28% versus 16% of baby boomers. When asked the likelihood that they’d switch in the next year, 44% said yes, compared with 19% of the boomers. Again, convenience is the primary factor, says Kalis. “You see similar types of reasoning across the generations, but with millennials, a larger reason for the switching is convenience.”
Millennials also want to know what up-front cost estimates, preferably online. A PNC Healthcare survey found 41% were likely to request estimates before undergoing treatment, versus 21% of baby boomers.
What can be done?
Access and efficiency should be the two biggest priorities for hospitals looking to cater to millennial patients, says Wilson. “In terms of access, major institutions are starting to utilize the patient portal, but that needs to be implemented across the board. Whether it’s making an appointment or checking on test results, patients need more electronic capabilities.”
To effectively influence front-end operations, hospitals need to implement the right technology on the back end, Wilson says. For instance, what technologies will expedite back-end processes and create a more efficient workflow? “Electronic data collaboration and sharing is one of the biggest challenges facing a number of industries today, and particularly healthcare. It doesn’t seem to be a high priority right now, but it needs to be if hospitals want to keep pace with patient preferences and needs.”
Hospitals also need to get ahead of the curve and start thinking about technology that would benefit them in the future, he says. “Millennials are all about efficiency – they are able to access any information instantaneously due to mobile technology, and that’s where healthcare is going.”
Innovative steps to assist milliennials' healthcare expectations
With the push for patient-centered care, more hospitals and health systems are taking steps to understand the populations they serve and to think holistically about the end-to-end patient experience. For example, knowing that millennials are especially sensitive to speed of transactions, the Cleveland Clinic made it possible for patients to get same-day appointments if requested before 4 p.m.
Some hospitals have also begun posting prices online. Earlier this year, St. Clair Hospital outside Pittsburgh launched a tool that provides cost estimates of deductibles, copays and coinsurance for 100 tests, treatments and procedures. Health systems in at least two other states, Oklahoma and Oregon, also are offering pricing transparency.
“For millennials, it’s not all about digital and it’s not all about online. It’s about multiple ways of interacting, and many will choose to use the phone and meet in physical spaces, but they want to be able to do both,” Kalis says. “It comes down to choice and options and the ability to have all of those things sync up.”
What's the next generation on tap
As for Generation Z, those born after 1995? “They’ll be looking for ways not to visit the doctor at all,” says Wilson, adding that the Cleveland Clinic, WeCounsel and Analyte Health are already playing around with advance telehealth options.
Shopping for a provider could also be taken to a new level, as EHRs are more effectively implemented across institutions. “A primary care physician may not be a mainstream necessity, as any physician could have access to a patient’s long-term health history,” he says.