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Can healthcare payers and providers crack the Millennial code?

By Hsiu Mei Wong, PA business design expert, Jennifer Zheng, PA healthcare expert and Mark Summers, PA healthcare expert

Technology-enabled, informed, collaborative, price conscious—these are just a few of the words that describe characteristics of Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1997. These same words could also describe how Millennials want their healthcare systems to perform: enhanced and accessible by current technology, informative and educative for the patient, accepting of a patient’s proactive and collaborative decision-making, and reasonably and flexibly priced.

Much of our nation’s current healthcare system is outmoded, outdated, expensive, and user-unfriendly. With Millennials now occupying the largest living age demographic, the outlook for change on the healthcare horizon is good. Millennials influence three generations of people requiring healthcare: themselves and the children and parents they care for. In addition, because millennials represent the largest age demographic in the work force, they have significant spending potential and are forecasted to spend $1.2T annually by 2020. Healthcare payers and providers must adapt to Millennials in order to stay relevant in this rapidly changing healthcare environment.

Millennials believe they are empowered, and will go where that belief is affirmed. If they feel they have no control over something as personal and intimate as their own healthcare, they won’t buy or subscribe. Some payers and providers of healthcare are listening, and their business model will resonate with Millennials if they continue to address Milillennials’ concerns and demands.

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To remain viable in the healthcare sector, payers and providers must understand the implications of millennials as customers, members and patients:

  • Millennials are transient, as they change jobs often. They rely on technology—websites, social media, and reviews—to find new providers in unfamiliar areas, and expect an easy transfer once they select their new doctor and medical facility. Providers that are visibly online, open to feedback, and comfortable with technology will feel more accessible to transient Millennials. Health records should be transferred smoothly to ensure quality of care is not affected, tests are not duplicated, and new providers have full patient information.
  • Millennials choose healthcare based on the entire healthcare experience. For providers, the experience includes several factors, such as convenience and ease of doing business, positive reviews from other patients, friendliness of staff and patient care, and price transparency. Transitioning away from the outdated healthcare system, Millennials are looking for an experience from their provider that is personal and makes the patient and caregivers feel good. They also want payers to provide a clear, easy-to-understand explanation of the services and benefits for which they are covered. Accuracy of information and easy access to information, like a provider search, requires organizations to be both flexible, transparent and appropriately responsive.
  • Millennials demand value and convenience. They prefer to use retail clinics for their ease of access, especially after work hours, instead of going to their primary care physician’s office and waiting an unpredictable length of time to be seen. From the provider perspective, this makes coordination of care difficult, as patient records could be scattered among multiple providers. To better engage with Millennials, providers can offer more accessible appointment hours or appointment scheduling sites. From the payer perspective, unnecessary and preventable costs could result from repeat testing and treatments for patients who use more than one retail clinic, such as one close to home and another close to work.

Failure to address these scenarios and gain the trust of Millennials leaves payers and providers vulnerable to being left behind by this generation. Payers and providers must also understand how Millennials want to interact with their healthcare system and adjust accordingly. They must no longer look like “the system.” 

Millennials rely on social interaction and collaboration; they want technology integration; they appreciate social goodwill and customer engagement; and they want customization and flexibility. Channels like an easy-to-use web portal or mobile app for managing patient interactions may influence a Millennial’s decision to engage. Payers who provide member extras such as discounted gym memberships have the view that if a member is happy, he or she is healthy, and if they are healthy, they cost less to insure.

A few progressive healthcare organizations are already adapting. They have embraced Millennials’ motivators and buying behaviors, and altered how they do business to ensure the healthcare environment remains fluid:

  • They are moving away from traditional healthcare models and considering patients as customers when developing care delivery, pricing structures and marketing campaigns. For example, Highmark keeps pricing transparent by offering members a Care Cost Estimator that lets patients compare costs for over 1,600 common procedures and services based on quality, convenience and cost.
  • They are open to partnerships and non-traditional business models, such as the retail clinics this generation so highly values for their convenience. For example, Walgreens has transferred ownership of its regional retail clinics to various hospital systems, such as Advocate Health Care and Providence Health & Services. For Advocate, the incentive is to reduce emergency room volumes and increase responsive medical attention when needed.
  • They are looking seriously at innovative technology solutions that go beyond just creating an app; the plan must be thorough and contain a roadmap that defines how the technology integrates, how it works and provide a benefit to the technology-enabled consumer who will use it. For example Ochsner Health System’s O Bar matches patients with health and wellness apps that track food and nutrition, fitness and activity, and management of chronic conditions.

Ask a Millennial, and they’ll tell you much remains to be done. They will not hesitate to tell you exactly what appeals to them and how healthcare providers can implement technology and processes that align with their needs and preferences. 

Today’s outmoded approach to customer interactions with healthcare providers and payers cannot continue. The needs and expectations of society are not being met, an issue that is becoming more acute as Millennials increase in power and influence.

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