How to tailor the patient experience for different generations (Part 1: Millennials)


Chris Hayhurst

Essential Insights contributor, healthcare writer

Featured experts

Kristina Redgrave

Innovation Solutions Manager, Fuse by Cardinal Health

Kimberly Cromer

Director, Strategic Intelligence and Analytics

Editor's Note: This is the first article in a three-part series looking at different generations of patients (Millennials, Gen Xers, and Boomers) and how healthcare organizations can tailor their experience to meet their unique characteristics.

They've grown up with Netflix, Facebook and Uber. They came of age in a world of smartphones, emails and texts. And now, the U.S. Census Bureau reports, Millennials account for more than a quarter of the population, with the oldest among them just turning 35. It's a generation with at least 83 million members, and they are redefining healthcare as we know it.

"Millennials as a group have high expectations," said Kristina Redgrave, innovation solutions manager at Fuse by Cardinal Health, the company's innovation center. "As consumers, they're used to having everything at their fingertips, and they want that same experience when it comes to their healthcare."

So given that Millennials view healthcare through a different lens—and that it's just a matter of time before they become the industry's biggest customers—how should healthcare organizations tailor their services to better suit their growing needs?

1. Make provider and cost information more accessible

Millennials are the world's first “digital natives," Redgrave explained. They're accustomed to shopping for services online and finding the best prices with a few clicks of a button. Now that they're old enough to purchase healthcare on their own, they're pushing the industry toward similar transparency.

“A lot of it has to do with high deductible plans," Redgrave said. “They're paying for services out of pocket, and that's leading them to shop around like they would for anything else." (A high-deductible health plan is a health insurance plan with lower premiums and higher deductibles than a traditional health plan.)

Some health systems, like University of Utah Health and Wake Forest Baptist in North Carolina, now even post physician ratings on their websites in part to appeal to young consumers who would otherwise look to Yelp.

When Millennials have the option, Redgrave noted, they don't just go to the first doctor they find. “They want to know what kind of quality they can expect and what their visit is going to cost."

Cost transparency tools like Castlight Health, Pockitdok, Healthsparq and Medlio are growing in popularity as consumers try to make more financially sound decisions around their healthcare.


2. Provide convenient and on-demand access

According to Kimberly Cromer, director of strategic intelligence and analytics at Cardinal Health, personalizing the patient experience for this generation requires a unique combination of technologies and flexibility. “It's important to understand they're all about 'on demand' and that for them, convenience is king," she said. “For Millennials, brand loyalty is really a foreign concept. They won't hesitate to switch providers if they can get a better price, value or experience."

Cromer pointed to her home state of California for examples of how healthcare organizations are catering to this influential demographic. “In the Bay Area, where there are several high-tech start-ups employing a multitude of Millennials, if you’re a provider that doesn’t offer 24/7 access to healthcare services, you’re behind the times,” she said. As a result—and to keep up with their competitors—most providers in the region now offer their customers telehealth services as well as other technologies to augment convenient access to care.

Leading healthcare organizations like the Cleveland Clinic have also offered same-day appointments that are particularly appealing to Millennials. The service depends on a sophisticated triage process and others like Mount Sinai Hospital are following suit. Companies like Zocdoc are partnering with health systems and physicians’ offices to allow patients to schedule appointments with them through their app.

3. Offer innovative and technology-based services

Some organizations are looking at innovative models to attract young consumers, offering VIP-level access in exchange for annual membership fees. At One Medical in San Francisco, members pay $149 per year for "services and benefits beyond what insurance covers." Customers book same-day appointments online, and can phone, email, or use an app to connect with the company's "Virtual Medical Team" any time of day or night.

Also serving the California market: Heal, a Santa Monica start-up specializing in house calls. For a flat fee of $99, "the caring, unhurried Heal doctors" visit their customers wherever they are—at home, in the office, or even their hotel.

"If you’re a parent with young children, a house call is a great alternative to a late night or early morning visit to an urgent care or emergency room,” Cromer said. “A $99 house call is much preferable over a family trip to a high cost of care site, long wait times and the heightened potential of exposure to other ailments."

Redgrave agreed that many new technologies like wearable devices and clinical virtual reality have been influenced by the Millennial generation as the healthcare industry jostles for their business. "The challenge is to continue to offer these new technologies and services without losing sight of what matters the most," she said.

What matters most, Redgrave explained, is to meet Millennials' demands for a better patient experience. "Like other generations of healthcare consumers, they want consistently strong outcomes. If you don’t give them that, they’ll just go somewhere else."