Millennials Are Sick: What Health Care Organizations Need to Know About the Shifting Health Care Landscape

March 20, 2020

// By Althea Fung //

Althea FungThe 2019 Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Index report found one-third of millennials — people born between 1981 and 1996 — have a health condition that lowers their life expectancy and quality of life. In comparison to Generation Xers at the same age, millennials have significantly higher incidences of several common health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, and major depression.

Despite needing more care, millennials seem to be taking a different approach to care than other generations — they want their care on demand.

Brent Walker, senior vice president of marketing and analytics at PatientBond

Brent Walker, senior vice president of marketing and analytics at PatientBond

“About 40 percent of millennials fall into a psychographic group called ‘Willful Endurers’ — people who live in the here and now and want immediate gratification,” says Brent Walker, senior vice president of marketing and analytics at PatientBond, a digital patient engagement company. “These groups are using urgent care, the emergency room, and retail clinics like the Minute Clinic at CVS because they don’t want to wait in line. They don’t want to wait two weeks or a month for an appointment; they want their care now.”

PatientBond is one of a growing field of companies dedicated to understanding what motivates people to make health care decisions. Performing national surveys of various groups, PatientBond offers insights into what consumers want from their health care experience.

The Illinois-based company uses psychographic segmentation, a system for categorizing consumers into five subgroups based on shared psychological characteristics. Psychographic segmentation models can help marketers better understand the attitudes, values, and lifestyles of consumers, particularly when it comes to health care.

“You can segment people into different age groups or generations, gender, ethnicities, socioeconomic incomes, household incomes. But not everyone in those groups thinks or acts alike,” he says.

“Millennials are not one big homogeneous mass that thinks in lockstep. Psychographic segmentation allows you to go into a group and figure out the different groups of people based on their personalities, behaviors, and motivations,” he adds. “Then you can categorize them. Are they more proactive about their health, are they reactive, or are they disengaged? We can paint different pictures based on those profiles.”

Make Review Sites Your Friend

“Millennials and Gen Z are statistically more likely to use social media than any other generation,” Walker says.

According to a PatientBond survey, 48 percent of millennials turn to social media ratings and review sites to find a primary care doctor. Walker says that by using social media, organizations can receive feedback from patients in real time and make changes to appeal to their consumer base.

“Respect is huge with millennials. If they know that you’re actually listening to them and doing something about it, it will cultivate loyalty.”

“Press Ganey is the standard for patient satisfaction measurement. But the reality is, a patient could go to a doctor and have a bad experience, but they won’t get the Press Ganey survey in the mail for a month or two from now,” he says. “With such a long time in between, I’m either not going to have the opportunity to receive top-of-mind feedback I need or if it’s two or three months out, I’ve already lost the opportunity to say mea culpa.”

He adds that by being proactive on review sites like Yelp, organizations can show users that their concerns are being heard: “Respect is huge with millennials. If they know that you’re actually listening to them and doing something about it, it will cultivate loyalty.”

Walker also says not to sweat the negative reviews — they can give legitimacy to the positive ones, as long as there aren’t too many of them: “If a consumer sees a location with 100 percent positive feedback across many reviews, they will likely think someone on staff is gaming the system. But if they see one or two negative reviews with a response from the organization saying, ‘I’m sorry. We’re going to fix this.’ That can go a long way in patient loyalty and new patient acquisition.”

Be Transparent About Price

Many millennials came of age during the recession of 2008. Compared to other groups, they’re very cost-conscious. About 41 percent of millennials want a cost estimate before undergoing a procedure. That’s compared to 21 percent of baby boomers. As millennials are less well off than older generations, according to a 2018 Federal Reserve report, they are more likely to defer care. In these circumstances, Walker says organizations need to be transparent but also consider promoting the convenience of service over the expense.

The PatientBond survey found that of any age group, millennials indicated they were the most willing to “spend whatever it takes to be healthy.”

“There’s a concept of value reframing. We had a concierge medicine business that cost $1,800 a year. When you think of concierge medicine, you think it’s for rich people. But the number-one professional that bought into it was teachers,” he says. “When you reframe the cost over the benefits, this is cheaper than cable TV annually and has a greater value. Value isn’t a price; it’s the performance over the price.”

Despite millennials not being financially stable, the PatientBond survey found that of any age group, millennials indicated they were the most willing to “spend whatever it takes to be healthy.” Combined, 50 percent of millennials said they’d be willing to spend on being healthy — compared to Gen Y and boomers, each reporting 37 percent agreeing or strongly agreeing with the statement.

“Sure, a segment of millennials doesn’t want to spend on health care, but if they prioritize it, communicating the value of what they’re getting and giving them options like telehealth will be a success,” Walker says.

Watch What You Say Offline

Walker says organizations should be cognizant of how they speak to millennials.

“With five psychographic segments, there are five different ways to say ‘pay your bill,’ and the way you position it, the words you choose, can impact whether they do what you want,” he says. “We train office staff, doctors, marketers how to speak to each one of the psychographic segments in a way that will resonate and elicit the kind of loyalty they’re looking for.”

Teaching clinicians how to communicate effectively with millennial patients converted ER “frequent flyers” into patients in primary care practices in one case. “We looked at who was using the emergency room frequently and noticed that it was millennial willful endurers. We taught the nursing staff how to speak their language, and they saw a 50 percent increase in conversion into the PCP offices,” Walker says.

Althea A. Fung is a digital content strategist and healthcare journalist. She is a senior editor at NewYork-Presbyterian.