Millennials Define Health Differently than Other Generations

Maria Tazi is an engagement manager at Prophet.
Maria Tazi is an engagement manager at Prophet.

Millennials have earned a reputation for being selfish, lazy, and disloyal, making them easy for companies to dismiss. In healthcare, they can be entirely forgotten.

Millennials are a healthy population, with the fewest chronic illnesses and lowest healthcare utilization. As a group that represents a minority share of cost, providers and payers often deprioritize Generation Y.

Despite their relatively limited needs, they are still left wanting. The gap between what Generation Y wants and what it gets is especially wide in healthcare, with providers failing to meet this generation's expectations on several important levels.

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While they may not be at the top of a long list of priorities, the sheer size (all 75.3 million of them!) of this segment makes them too important to overlook. In addition, this group remains largely unclaimed, with almost twice as many millennials looking for new doctors as baby boomers (63% versus 32%). Our latest research finds that for providers to win with Gen Y, they need to make some significant changes.

The study, “The State of Consumer Healthcare: A Study of Patient Experience,” coauthored with GE Healthcare Camden Group, uncovered that millennials' definition of health is different from the generation that preceded them. They consider eating right and exercising regularly the most important components of well-being, with “not getting sick” and “regular healthcare appointments” far behind.

When they do interact with the system, they are frustrated. Some 28% said it's a challenge to find convenient healthcare options. They're also more likely to say providers don't take the time to understand their needs. Part of the challenge is that when they do seek care, this cohort wants to be acknowledged for their individuality – in fact, they are more likely to say their health needs are unique (23%) than baby boomers (18%).  

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Indeed, much of Gen Y's disconnect occurs because today's healthcare system was designed by baby boomers. And it is a system that has already failed millennials, who are more likely to be uninsured. The close patient-doctor relationship their parents may believe in is not their norm: Nearly half of millennials, according to a 2015 Salesforce survey, say they have no personal relationship with their primary-care physician. And the 40% that do believe their doctor wouldn't even recognize them if they passed on the street. It's not so much that the PCP is entirely to blame — the reality is that we live in a system that only allows physicians to spend 10 minutes with a patient, to meet their productivity quotas.   

So what does it take to win with this group? First, and foremost, it requires understanding this audience, and not just the myths associated with them.  Understanding and responding to these six key demographic differences may make the difference.

Millennials are time crunched. Shaped by the on-demand economy, millennials have grown up with companies like OpenTable and Amazon enabling them to do things in a more efficient way. It is no wonder then that difficulty getting an appointment and excessive wait times frustrate them the most. So frustrated, in fact, that they head straight to the ER: 13% saying they've gone to the emergency room because they couldn't get in to see a doctor, compared with 10% of Gen X and 6% of baby boomers. Not surprisingly, that makes them more open than other age groups to seek more convenient alternatives, including telemedicine, retail clinics, urgent-care settings, and even self-directed research.  

Millennials question cost and value more. They see cost as a barrier and aren't sold on the potential future value they'll receive by investing in their health today (only 55% say they do, compared with 61% of Gen X, and 62% of baby boomers). And it can't be chalked up entirely to the fact that they are healthy, because they are using services: 65% have been to a doctor for a new condition at least once in the past year, compared with 58% of Gen X and 49% of Boomers. The real issue is that when they do get care, they aren't sure what they are paying for (35% said they don't understand their bills). Providing value to Gen Y will require showing them what their dollar buys, not just sending them a bill.

Millennials think digitally. Almost all millennials—95%—own smartphones. They want to integrate healthcare into their world, rather than the other way around, which means they want apps and other digital tools. They also search for care very differently than previous generations. When they're looking for a new doctor, millennials are influenced more by online search and personal networks, and less by medical professionals. They use Yelp in just about every other facet of their lives. Yet many providers fail to provide even the most basic digital tools, like online scheduling and record-sharing.

Millennials crave connection. Despite their reputation for not being incredibly loyal to brands, our study shows they do want to have an ongoing relationship with a healthcare company, whether they are sick or not (42%). They want the aforementioned connection to their doctor — to receive empathy and attention…who doesn't? In fact, they are more vulnerable and need someone they can rely on to hold their hand through the process, proven by the fact that they are more likely to say they need help navigating their care and are more likely to be upfront about being confused.

Millennials seek validation. It's not that they don't trust what providers tell them—they do. It's just that they trust other sources of information, too, including their own research and the opinion of their peers. The controversy surrounding childhood vaccines is a good example: Some 40% of Gen Y parents do not vaccinate their kids according to recommended schedules. For baby boomer parents, compliance with a pediatrician's suggestions was practically universal.

Millennials want a system designed for them. Providers can reach out to millennials by creating options more in tune with their lives, including the ability to email, chat, and have immediate response for questions and healthcare needs. They'll respond to providers who address budget concerns, lowering deductibles for routine sickness.

By bringing millennials into the healthcare ecosystem as early as possible, providers can lower their costs to treat them, and become an integral part of their wellness equation.

Maria Tazi is an engagement manager at Prophet.