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Millennials take the wheel: Driving healthcare to rethink patient experience and engagement

David Ollila, Associate Director of Sales and Business Development, X by 2

Millennials are driving companies and industries forward and forcing them to rethink the way they operate.

In full disclosure, I’m a Millennial. Some of you might refer to me as lazy, an entitled narcissist, or my personal favorite as being part of “Generation Me.” Regardless of your personal sentiments, the reality is that Millennials are making a difference and using our unique experiences and values to have a positive effect on people’s lives and significantly reshaping the business world.

Consider the cable industry and the evolution away from the traditional old-guard cable model. Many Millennials found themselves frustrated and simply fed up with cable companies – the service, the plan, the price – and the significant shift that occurred toward “cord-cutting” as a tech-savvy generation wished to view content on their phones and tablets and consume content whenever and wherever they want. Or think about the food industry as distrust for mega food manufacturers has turned the industry on its head. Millennials demand product transparency and only purchase from retailers and brands that prove to be trustworthy, authentic and ethical.

The healthcare industry is no exception, and just like other industries a Millennial’s view and approach to health is a bit different than previous generations. So how can healthcare providers attract, engage and serve Millennial patients and achieve the great desired trifecta of improving health outcomes, bettering patient care/population health and lowering costs?

Well, first an example.

Since my childhood, the process of visiting my doctor has remained the same. Think about your typical doctor’s appointment. We make an appointment months in advance, upon arrival we’re greeted by a receptionist who sits behind a piece of glass, we’re asked to provide an update on our health history and expected to fill out multiple forms, and wait to see our physician. Once in the examination room, we petition the doctor’s expertise if we’re ill, sit quietly while the doctor does their thing, leave after 10-15 minutes of office visit time, then follow the doctor’s orders. As a lower-risk Millennial patient, there are times where I feel as if the physician is almost dismissive of my well visit; simply looking at vitals and sending me on my way. I think to myself as I walk out, “Should I have had blood drawn? Any suggestions for keeping myself healthy?”

It’s a sad paradigm the industry must desperately change. For Millennials, the future must include a more high-touch and customer-centric, patient experience. But that shouldn’t surprise you, I’m a Millennial. It’s all about me, right? So what should this experience look like?

Let’s look at three key areas.

Physician-patient relationship
I can’t speak for younger Millennials, but I desire a personal relationship, open communication and partnership with my physician. I love technology, but sometimes I feel that physicians and health IT vendors are too quick to try and trump a personal connection between my physician and me. For example, my physician has implemented an EMR and patient portal, but the portal is primarily used as a mechanism for conveying visit/lab results. Is this how engagement is being defined? Getting me to log in? Technology should support my relationship with my physician not eliminate it.

Here is an ideal experience, when I go in for a wellness visit, my physician and I discuss healthy diet and exercise patterns. We set goals that I can track on my health apps and wearable devices to later share and discuss for a more proactive and holistic view of my patterns between annual/semi-annual visits. I’m already active in my wellness, and I have the technology; I’m loaded with information. I just need someone that I can trust to collaborate on my approach and keep me on track. If physicians won’t make these types of proactive changes and take more of a patient-centric approach, I fear we will see a major surge of Millennial patients forced into the system when they can no longer ignore what could have been a preventable health problem. 

Speed, convenience and access

Millennials value convenience, especially in mobile form. In healthcare, there is seemingly an endless list of possibilities, although I don’t see many practices adopting them. What should practices offer to get a Millennial’s attention?

Below are a few examples that I’d consider table stakes:

Online appointment scheduling
Nothing makes me happier than not having to make a phone call. Integrating an online appointment scheduling feature into a practice website is an easy and convenient way to give patients control for when and where they want to go and enhance the overall patient experience.

Online check-in and queue management
Part of the typical frustration with doctor visits is the lack of clear expectations for wait time. Who doesn’t value their time? Adopting an online queue management solution will give patients clarity on how much time they have, updates on changes and the ability to determine when to head to the doctor’s office.

Self-registration kiosks
If you still need me to fill out forms for my medical history, demographic and insurance information, you could at least make it digital. If not something I can do from my phone or tablet, self-service kiosks allow me to submit and save my information for simple review and confirmation of information at any returning visit.

Virtual care is growing in popularity as Millennial patients and patients of all ages seek more convenient and affordable access to care. Particularly, Millennials want innovations for how we connect with providers including eliminating in-person visits entirely. While online diagnosis and treatment isn’t available for all symptoms and conditions, it will be available for many of the common ailments that Millennials face.

Urgent care
Most Millennials don’t have a strong relationship with a primary care physician, view our ailments as relatively simplistic, and in my opinion have a strong vote of no confidence in hospital’s ability to provide cost effective and convenient care, we’re more likely to seek out alternatives like retail clinics or urgent care. For providers that aim to attract and retain Millennials, utilizing and promoting an after-hours clinic or urgent care services are a must for the future of care. But not just traditional clinic/urgent care facilities. High-tech facilities that offer online reservations/appointment scheduling, virtual consultations, heath concierges and wellness services in addition to basic medical test/assessment type services.

Transparency – physician quality and care costs
Millennials have grown up with more marketing and sales noise than any other generation. Not just billboards, but pop-ups, radio ads, TV ads, games with ads, product placements, etc. Additionally, we’ve grown up amidst the Crash of 2008, the Great Recession and tend to be tight with our wallets in general. At the same time, most Millennials take pride in the businesses/brands and products we engage with and value. So if Millennials don’t trust advertisements, the information they provide or the motives of the companies that produced them, whom do we trust? Our peers and ourselves. Don’t forget, we’re digital natives, the Internet is second nature and information has always been at our fingertips. (Is there anything that can’t be found with a five-word Google search?)

Additionally, we use family and friends and various digital/social platforms to seek the truth, cutting through misinformation or hints of lies in search of the truth. Isn’t everyone entitled to the truth?

So how does this influence our expectations when it comes to healthcare?

A Millennial’s entire purchasing pattern hinges on transparency and openness of information as we seek to manage our healthcare. At this point, however, researching physician/provider quality and overall patient satisfaction is overly complicated and almost a bit of a black box minus the government and some lightly used physician review and rating websites. Is it reasonable to expect Millennials to be okay with this pattern continuing? If your answer is yes, I don’t accept that. I’m not alone when I say that medical costs are absurd with or without ObamaCare. So as I consider seeking care, I expect information to be available that will help me assess and compare physician value (combination of care quality and affiliated price/costs) and estimate my care costs before I ever step into an office. I know this pricing information already exists between my health plan and my provider and even on the quality side is available for those physicians that participate in a health plan’s PCMH-related incentive programs. I’ve grown up being able to compare everything I purchase, from plane tickets and hotel rooms to most recently health insurance. Why should my healthcare provider be any different? Give me the online and mobile tools that I need to be an informed consumer and empowered to seek my best interests.

I’ve seen what my parents and grandparents have had to deal with when it comes to healthcare: endless paperwork, unexplainable and high care costs, physicians seemingly geared more for profit than patient well-being. We deserve more than this and with 83+ million Millennials backing a new approach; I expect a different health system to overtake the status quo.

Millennials, patient engagement, X by 2