There is considerable grumbling about the stereotypical propensities of Millennials, which, just like most generational grumbling, is largely baseless. In particular, the caricature of Millennials as the technology-obsessed generation that prefers devices to human interaction overlooks a simple truth: what we are witnessing is a byproduct of the rapidly-evolving technologies that they have had consistent access to rather than an inherent anti-social trait. Every generation from Baby Boomer to Gen-Z has the same technology addictions, even if they didn’t have the privilege of early adoption like their Millennial counterparts. To ignore the prevalence of technology and social media as an inherent part of daily life for Millennials – ”the digital-natives” – is to miss the very real need to adjust our expectations for how they will pursue and obtain services in the healthcare industry, just like in any other industry.
In fact, no other industry that has resisted evolving to meet people when and where they prefer to engage has survived. Everything from how we read books, order groceries, or ride in cars has drastically changed during the formative years of Millennials. Industries have transformed to accommodate the ubiquitous handheld devices we carry. Healthcare cannot be the exception and expect to survive within its current model.
While many people still prefer traditional methods of interacting such as calling to schedule appointments, their numbers are declining. Honestly, it’s not only because calling has become less commonplace in general, but also because the results from calling are frequently substandard. Only half of respondents to a patient access survey found they were able to make an appointment on the first attempt, and of those who obtained one, only one-third felt confident they had booked with someone who would meet their clinical needs. Instead, consumers are increasingly turning to digital offerings for more friction-free provider search and scheduling experiences.
And lest there be objections to the phrase, Millennials in particular are “consumers”; Millennials are currently in the prime of their health – as a general rule, we are healthiest in our 20s and 30s. Their needs when it comes to engaging with health systems are going to be acute and episodic or geared toward prevention, not acting as traditional patients. Consumers value convenience and quality across industries, and research shows healthcare is no exception. Almost 60% of Millennials have sought and switched providers to get a sooner appointment. Consumer choices in healthcare, as in e-retail, are highly influenced by ratings and reviews, with 65% of survey respondents ranking this the top resource they want on health system websites. Successful health systems are courting Millennial consumers by creating digital, friction-free experiences, recognizing their desire to find reliable information and act on it online as the new normal for the increasingly digitally-native population at large.
Because consumers have episodic needs, innovative health systems are thinking about additional means of engagement outside of those intermittent care delivery opportunities too. Building their brands around wellness, surfacing meaningful content, and creating opportunities to foster brief but impactful consumer engagement will all be key to developing the relationships necessary for long-term loyalty.
Finally, lest we forget, about a quarter of practicing physicians are Millennials themselves and the median age of nurses in the US is 43. If health systems are truly courting the Millennial population, they will need to acknowledge and invest in providers’ expectations around facilitating frictionless digital interactions with their patients and families too. Resistance to digital innovation is not necessarily on providers – 91% want to be more involved with the creation of their digital presence, and 43% who are dissatisfied with their online profiles cite concerns over accuracy. Providers – digitally native in all other aspects of their lives as well – have similar expectations of their digital presence as consumers.
There continues to be an unbecoming infantilization of Millennials and it is unfair to push this image of tech-addicted children. Technology has changed how we engage with the world and how we create and respond to our communities; some age groups are simply more facile because they have grown up with it. This is, and will continue to be, no different in healthcare’s evolving future. If health systems are to remain relevant, they must look to the “children” to lead them.