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Millennials – Changing the Health Care Landscape

Studies show that millennials are not interested in having a primary care doctor. They are looking to the Internet, urgent care and employers to help with their health care needs.

Millennials are the 83 million Americans born from 1981 to 1996 and who are now 23 to 38. The U.S. Census Bureau population projections indicate that in 2019 millennials will surpass Baby Boomers as the largest living adult generation.

For decades, patients have had trusted relationships with primary care physicians. These internists, family physicians or general practitioners coordinated the patients’ care, ordered tests, offered treatments and made referrals.

That is changing. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, of the 26 percent of respondents who said they don’t have a primary care physician, almost half were 18-to-29 year olds.

Observers say some of the disinterest can be attributed to age. As people age, it’s more likely they’ll need a doctor who understands their medical history. In addition, experts believe millennials eat healthier than their parents and may rebound faster from illnesses.

As an employer, it’s important you understand why the need for a primary care doctor is declining and how it affects you.

Insisting on Convenience

In the past, when people wanted treatment after hours, their only option was an expensive trip to an emergency room. Millennials now have the option of reasonably priced visits to retail clinics in drugstores, big-box retailers or free-standing urgent care centers. These are open evenings and weekend hours and cost as little as $40 per visit.

Telehealth also offers convenience. Millennials can call or video conference with a physician any time of day — sometimes for free. These physicians often can prescribe and send prescriptions directly to the pharmacy.

This care-on-demand option is a good fit with millennials’ schedules. They don’t have to miss work or change their schedules for an appointment. By comparison, a 2017 survey by Merritt Hawkins, a physician search firm, found that the average wait time for new-patient appointments with a primary care doctor is 24 days — partially explaining why retail clinics are growing in popularity and number. Rand Corporation researchers say there are more than 2,700 retail clinics in the United States.

Technologically Savvy

Millennials grew up using technology. They interact with their friends on social networks, and book services, such as flights, hotels, and hair appointments through the Internet or smartphones. A takeout meal is just a quick call away.

The health care industry, which in many offices, still uses fax machines, for example, has not kept pace with technology. Some doctors have websites, but patients still need to phone the office when making appointments.

Millennials demand easier access to their providers and are more likely to use the Internet to research their symptoms. Google and WebMD are two favorites for self-diagnosing.

When they decide to see a doctor, millennials often will check online reviews or ask friends for recommendations. Nuance Communications conducted a survey finding that 54 percent of millennials use online reviews to find a doctor before scheduling an appointment and are twice as likely as non-millennials to trust personal and social network reviews when selecting health care providers.

Cost Considerations

The average millennial income is lower than that of previous generations and many young people are saddled with high student loan debt. Health care coverage costs are a prime concern. Only seeking treatment when needed or delaying treatments are two ways millennials manage costs.

Looking to Employers to Provide Assistance

Data from the 2014 Consumer Health Mindset report, conducted by consultancy Aon Hewitt, the National Business Group on Health and The Futures Company, show that more than half of millennials want employers to play an active role supporting their overall health and wellbeing. It also showed millennials are open to having their direct manager play an active role in encouraging them to stay healthy.

To better meet these needs, Aon Hewitt experts suggest employers get to know this generation better. For instance, more than half of millennials reported that they are more motivated “to look good”, than to “avoid illness”. Therefore, employers will find it more effective to tailor their strategy and communications to show how poor health can impact an individual’s energy and appearance.

Bearing in mind that millennials are technologically savvy, employers should take advantage of apps and mobile-friendly websites to help engage employees in health and wellness campaigns.

Programs that aim to improve employee health should be easy and convenient. Examples include: walking meetings, group fitness events or onsite health and fitness programs such as yoga or Zumba.

Also, consider adding a competitive element, such as games or mini-challenges because millennials are likely to be interested in friendly competitions.

Long-term Effects

Convenience and cost savings are great, but some experts warn that moving away from a primary care relationship can actually worsen health and raise costs for individuals in the long run. Undiagnosed physical and mental health problems can worsen. A primary care doctor, particularly for people with chronic conditions, can provide continuous and personalized care.

A recent report in JAMA Internal Medicine found that nearly half the patients who sought treatment at an urgent care clinic for a cold, flu or a similar respiratory ailment left with unnecessary and potentially harmful prescriptions for antibiotics, compared with 17 percent of those seen in a doctor’s office.

Although walk-in clinics may be fine for some illnesses, few are equipped to provide holistic care. 

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