How millennials are changing the medical care picture

27 March 2019

Millennials and Gen Z get sick like any other generation, but they want their care packaged differently. Once you get over the shock of their presumptuousness, you will see that solving the millennial conundrum, presents medical practitioners with exciting options.

In a recent survey of 2,000 consumers about their healthcare preferences, Accenture found a significant difference between consumers born after 1981 (millennials and Gen Z) and other demographic groups.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Primary care is playing much less of a role in the healthcare habits of younger patients. Just 67% of millennials and 55% of Gen Z have primary care doctors, compared with 84% of baby boomers and 76% of Gen Xers.
  • Digital health services are gaining traction, with all demographics expressing a growing preference for online or electronic communication between patient and provider, as well as access to remote or telemonitoring services. However, 44% of millennials are more interested in providers that offered mobile or online access to test results. Compared with 29% of baby boomers, millennials are also more keen on electronic prescribing and managing appointments online.
  • More consumers are trying virtual care than before, with Gen Z in particular, being partial to alternate care delivery models: 55% would routinely use a virtual PCP and 48% a virtual specialist. Millennials are turning to non-traditional care models like retail clinics (41%) and virtual care (39%).
  • Consumers, in general, are increasingly turning top referring digital tools for “self-service healthcare,” with 51% stating that they use a wearable or mobile app to manage lifestyle and health conditions, and 53% using virtual nurses to monitor health conditions, medication and vital signs.

While it is easy to understand the digital and virtual bias of millennials and Gen Z, the lack of interest in primary care does not make immediate sense to older generations. Further research on the topic, however, suggests that it stems from life-stage realities. Millennials are now at an age where they have to take responsibility for their own healthcare as they come off their parents’ medical aid. Many move away from home, get a job and their own place to live and, importantly, are in excellent health. Regular check-ups and consulting a GP are simply not priorities, given other demands their finances and their general sense of invincibility.

Furthermore, other healthcare options exist. The younger generations are far more likely to self-diagnose with the aid of 'Dr Google', rely on online communities for support and advice or where possible, bypass primary care to seek out a specialist directly.

What then is a GP to do?

The good news is that the clues to how GPs and other primary healthcare providers should and could engage with millennials and Gen Z are contained in the preferences they so readily express.

In short, the strategy should be to bait your hook with digital, online and electronic means in order to bring the younger generations into your practice where you will have the chance to convince them of your bona fides.

The following tips are a combination of expert advice and practical steps that doctors are already employing with great success:

Establish a strong professional online presence for yourself. Millennials research practitioners before they commit, and also rely on recommendations from friends and online community members. The more they know about you, the more likely they are to come in and meet you.

  • Your practice website should be a go-to resource for valuable, relevant health information. You can tap into readily available sources of information by linking them into your website, and/or feature content from your own providers, such as blog posts or reviewed articles.
  • Millennials and Gen Z are about instant gratification; in primary healthcare terms, it means an appointment when they want it. An idea is to leave a number of slots open every day so that you can accommodate younger patients immediately.
  • Millennials and Gen Z grew up in a world where landlines were almost unheard of, especially in South Africa. Furthermore, they text; they don’t call. Make it therefore possible for them to book an appointment without having to call your practice. Options include a mobile number to which SMS or WhatsApp messages can be sent; Facebook bookings; or an online booking portal where patients can schedule their own appointments.
  • Remind patients of appointments with text or WhatsApp messages.
  • Offer alternative payment options, such as SnapScan.
  • Engage millennials in their care. Setting aside enough time to develop relationships during initial visits can be an essential component of establishing a positive experience.
  • Millennials and Gen Z live online, hence reviews will greatly assist your practice. Actively solicit feedback from patients by asking them about opportunities for improvement and what services they would like to see from your practice. Also ask them to review your practice online, which can help you attract more millennials. This feedback can help you to improve your marketing strategies over time to attract millennials and patients in other age brackets.

The point is that unlike older generations, millennials and Gen Z are not in awe of the medical profession. Healthcare providers have to work harder to win their trust and convince them of the importance of especially primary and preventative healthcare.

But it can be done, and your practice as a whole stands to benefit from the effort.