Guest Column | November 6, 2017

How Millennials Are Driving Interest And Usage Of Virtual Care

By Lee Horner, Synzi

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults, millennials continue to lead other segments in their adoption and use of technology. For example, 92 percent of millennials own smartphones, compared with 85 percent of Gen Xers (those who turn ages 38 to 53 this year), 67 percent of baby boomers (ages 54 to 72) and 30 percent of the Silent Generation (ages 73 to 90). This analysis also indicated that almost all millennials (97 percent) use the internet. Twenty-eight percent of millennials are smartphone-only internet users, meaning they own a smartphone, but do not subscribe to traditional broadband service at home. Millennials are increasingly using these devices to access healthcare on their terms – when and where they need care the most. The technological capabilities and expectations of this tech-savvy generation are driving virtual care innovation and adoption.

As healthcare organizations increasingly focus on how to deliver care that meets the needs of this generation, they should keep in mind the following key considerations when embracing virtual care technology:

  • How high tech can deliver high touch care, especially for chronic conditions
  • How an organization’s IT infrastructure can keep up with millennials’ technological prowess
  • How providers can embrace convenient and flexible communication demanded by this generation
  • How the overall patient experience can be enhanced by a user-friendly app

How High Tech Can Deliver High Touch Care, Especially For Chronic Conditions

Millennials rely on technology to engage with others and “transact” – whether in financial services, ride-sharing, education, socializing, or entertainment. This generation of digital natives naturally turns to devices and “Dr. Google” for healthcare information. Healthcare organizations must embrace this reality – namely, that 45 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds have no primary care provider, compared with 28 percent of those 30 to 49, 18 percent of those 50 to 64, and 12 percent age 65 and older, according to a July 2018 study from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Due to their digital nomad behaviors, millennials with chronic conditions may shirk away from the traditional doctor-patient relationship. This can be concerning for those who are treating millennials affected by chronic conditions and seeking to provide these patients with much-needed ongoing and personalized care. To better engage this population subsegment, healthcare organizations can leverage the dynamic nature of video, email, text, and SMS in their patient engagement strategy. Similar to receiving email or text reminders to pay a bill online, millennials will appreciate receiving timely and thoughtful appointment reminders, medication updates, and healthcare messaging in a manner that reflects how and when they use technology in their daily lives. With a virtual care communication platform, organizations can deploy a high-tech – yet high-touch – care delivery method when treating these millennials.

How An Organization’s IT Infrastructure Can Keep Up With Millennials’ Technological Prowess

Millennials expect other population segments to keep up with their digital technology prowess and may be dismayed when their providers and healthcare settings do not offer the technology-based care they expect. IT departments are increasingly recognizing the need to provide millennials with easy access to EHRs, online health portals, appointment calendars, payment options, and virtual care on demand. These tech offerings enable millennials to track their own health and access data – and care – whenever and wherever they are. As Stanford Medicine X patient advocate Hugo Campos stated at the HIMSS18 Patient Engagement & Experience Summit, "No patient wants to engage with healthcare. They want to engage with life."

How Providers Can Embrace Convenient And Flexible Communication Demanded By This Generation

Flexibility is key to engaging millennial team members at a healthcare organization. A FlexJobs report found that 82 percent of this population segment is more loyal to their employer if they have flexible work options. For millennials seeking and embracing a career as a healthcare professional, healthcare organizations which offer virtual care are an appealing fit. Whether working as nurses, clinicians, or specialists, millennials will appreciate the ability to provide their patient community with care, regardless of the setting. Providers value the flexibility of being able to work on-site and offsite shifts based on their individual preferences. The overall patient community also benefits from flexible care delivery options, as this allows healthcare organizations to attract and retain talent from this tech-savvy millennial generation.

How The Overall Patient Experience Can Be Enhanced By A User-Friendly App

User experience is key to engaging the millennial generation to practice self-care. Healthcare organizations should explore apps which enable millennials to take action easily, interpret data (including information from their health and fitness trackers and wearable devices) quickly, and also reward them for staying on track with their treatment and improving their overall health. The Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) offered an interesting perspective on effective designs for consumer-centered virtual care that could enable a consumer-centered healthcare ecosystem. One of their suggestions included the idea of “smart triggers.” Similar to behavioral loops used on Facebook and Instagram, patients can receive information, motivation, and recognition in order to encourage ongoing adherence. Family members and friends also can be included in the process of recognizing and rewarding millennials for the right behaviors. Another essential element that millennials expect from the patient experience is a way to connect with their providers through social media. A recent Harris Poll survey from the American Osteopathic Association indicated that 54 percent of this population segment is or would like to be friends with, or followers of, their healthcare providers on social media. The survey also found nearly two-thirds of millennials feel it is appropriate to contact their physician(s) about a health issue through social media either by posting on their page or direct messaging them.

By providing millennials with better access and more control of how to consume healthcare, healthcare organizations will strengthen engagement and loyalty amongst this population segment. Evolving their business and practice models to better engage millennials will help these organizations continue to reap the benefits of using technology to optimize care.\

About the Author

Lee Horner is Chief Executive Officer of Synzi, a leading virtual care company.