Millennials are turning their backs on traditional health-care delivery.
Story: Joy Stephenson-Laws
One aspect of the traditional revenue model for most health-care providers includes a strategy of maintaining patient loyalty while capturing new patients to replace the revenue lost through attrition. The goal is to provide financial growth to keep pace or outpace the rate of operating cost increases. Many providers implement this strategy through a combination of marketing and operational activities that, with some tweaks here and there, have worked sufficiently well. And since it wasn’t “broken,” there was no compelling reason to “fix it.”
But the days of “marketing as usual” are over, thanks to the generation known as “millennials” taking the place of “baby boomers” as the largest population of people in the United States. According the U.S. Census Bureau, there are now more than 83 million millennials, or people born between 1981 and 1996, versus about 75 million baby boomers. Another way to put it, millennials now represent a quarter of the country’s population. And given that older millennials are now well into their 30s, this means they are not only making health-care decisions for themselves but most likely for their parents and grandparents as well.
So, what does this mean for health-care providers? It means that to ensure financial stability and viability over the next few decades, providers need to know how to attract millennials to their facilities and how to keep them loyal. For many providers, this is far more easily said than done since millennials are nothing like previous generations in how they view health care and how they consume it.
Perhaps one of the most visible changes, and one that has far-reaching implications for the industry, is that millennials are abandoning primary care physicians (PCPs) and opting instead for alternate sources of health care. Many of these options would not have been contemplated as viable a decade ago. A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that almost 45 percent of millennials do not have a PCP, compared to only 18 percent for their parents’ generation. And if you look at their grandparents, that number drops even lower, to around 12 percent. Another study done by the Employee Benefit Research Institute had similar results with 33 percent of millennials not having a PCP, compared to 15 percent for people ages 50 to 64.
While it may be tempting for hospitals to believe that by the nature of their size, resources, and services they are immune to this “millennial effect,” they do so at their own financial risk. While baby boomers and previous generations accepted the status quo of the health-care system, millennials do not. In fact, many millennials believe health care in the United States today is inherently flawed. They tend to not fully trust the industry to do the right thing when it comes to their care, and they want to see changes that reflect their wants and needs. Millennials, who are familiar with instant gratification, also see health care as frustratingly inefficient and more like a stereotypical 20th-century-style assembly line.
And given their desire for institutions to work for the common good, they are also skeptical of health-care providers’ true motives. Many see providers as “profit-making machines.” Last, but certainly not least, millennials depend (more than other generations) on a provider’s reputation and online reviews on sites like Yelp! to help make a decision about which provider to use for their health-care needs.
What millennials want from health-care providers
Given that millennials have never known a world without the internet, on-demand digital content, social media, and “Dr. Google,” it’s not surprising their life experiences and technology shaped their view of how they believe health care should work. Their model of health care offers:
Instant access and convenience
The idea of having to wait days, or even weeks, to see a doctor or other health-care professionals is anathema to millennials. They want wait times of less than 30 minutes and same-day appointments. And while some millennials would previously just go to the ER—even with the additional wait and costs involved—they now head straight for their local retail clinic or urgent care center, many of which are conveniently located at their local CVS or Walmart. One millennial even described heading to his urgent care as being like “speed dating” but with a doctor instead of a potential mate. How popular have these clinics become? At last count, there are about 3,000 of them and counting.
Transparency and competitive pricing
While millennials are not alone in believing that health care is too expensive, they are, arguably, the only generation likely to ask providers for discounts or a less expensive treatment option. They also like it when prices are posted (as many urgent care and retail clinics do) and there are no hidden costs or final-bill surprises. Comparison shopping among hospitals, doctors, and other health-care providers—which would have been almost unheard of with previous generations—is commonplace with this generation. There is evidence that more than 40 percent of millennials ask for estimates before agreeing to any treatment plans. They can be so price-conscious that almost half have admitted to putting off health care because of the cost.
Millennials are connected 24/7 to their friends, work, and the world in general. So, it’s no surprise they expect the same from their health-care providers. Specifically, millennials want to:
Be able to use apps to book health-care appointments rather than having to call.
Have online access to their and their families’ health data.
Take advantage of preventive care services via their smartphones or other devices.
Have two-way, full electronic communication with their doctors and other providers.
Results-based, competitive fees
Millennials do not blindly accept the pricing practices of the health-care industry, and they know that health-care cost increases have outpaced inflation for most, if not all, of their lives. As a result, they usually look for new ways to pay for health care to make sure they are getting the greatest proverbial bang for their health-care buck. These include:
Single, monthly, upfront payments with no copays or deductibles.
Upfront estimates rather than getting a bill after care is delivered.
Payment structures that reflect quality of care versus quantity of care.
Shared savings to encourage greater efficiency and cost effectiveness.
Incentives that reward healthiness and preventive care.
Technologies, such as telehealth to replace in-person visits, that were inconceivable a few years back continue to gain acceptance and traction with millennials. In fact, almost 75 percent of this generation have reported being interested in this service and more than half support its use. This is not surprising since millennials are used to videoconferencing for personal phone calls and business meetings.
How providers can keep millennials’ business
The easiest way for providers to attract and keep millennials as loyal patients and health-care consumers is to listen to what they say they need and want rather than just conducting “business as usual.” It also means borrowing processes and services from health-care providers, retailers, and professional services that have won the business and loyalty of millennials. These include offering the following:
Same-day appointments with reduced wait times.
On-site, high-speed, free WiFi.
Wide variety of device chargers in waiting rooms and hospital rooms.
“Welcome” kiosks for check-in and follow-up appointments.
Courtesy tablets for accessing health-care information while on site.
Robust apps and portals for accessing health records and communications with physicians.
Telehealth via mobile devices.
Messaging and communications via message platforms such as iMessage and WhatsApp.
On-site urgent-care clinics similar to those offered by retailers.
Enhanced community wellness programs.
While many of these services may seem somewhat out-of-place or alien to many hospitals, they are, to a great degree, very common outside a health-care setting. Given that companies such as Amazon and Google, which have defined the type of service millennials want, are poised to become bigger players in health care, providers may need to become more like them and less like a traditional health-care institution if they are to attract and retain the loyalty of almost a quarter of the U.S. population.
About the writer: Joy Stephenson-Laws is the founder of Proactive Health Labs (phlabs.org), a national nonprofit health information company that provides education and tools to achieve optimal health. She also is the author of “Minerals—The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy.”