Medical laboratories can get ahead of the trend by developing processes for serving younger healthcare consumers in different ways

Experts say that Millennials are rewriting the rules of healthcare. Rather than following in baby boomers’ footsteps, this new generation of young adults shops for healthcare in ways that may change the provider-patient relationship for all providers, including pathologists and medical laboratories.

Also known as Gen Y, this generation interacts with healthcare providers differently than earlier generations in at least three basic ways:

  1. When seeking medical advice, they first turn to websites;
  2. They prefer to ask friends for physician referrals; and,
  3. They are not shy about requesting discounts from providers to cut their medical costs.

Different Approaches to Choosing Doctors and Communicating Concerns

A recent survey by Nuance Communications showed how baby boomers and millennials are taking different approaches to their healthcare. It starts with how they choose their primary care physician.

For example, millennials (aged 18-24) are nearly two times as likely to trust personal recommendations when choosing a doctor than those 65 and older. In addition, 60% of millennials talk to their friends about their negative healthcare experiences, with only 15% giving feedback to their provider. By contrast, the majority (51%) of patients over age 65 talk to their doctors directly when they are unhappy with their care.

“These [millennials] are informed healthcare consumers who, if they feel rushed, are likely to share criticism online,” observed Anthony Oliva, MD, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at Nuance Communications, in a Yahoo News article. “Healthcare organizations need to find ways to help physicians optimize time spent with their patients and to protect their reputations.”

Millennials Pose Challenges to Doctors

As Nuance pointed out in a statement, this change “poses a new challenge for providers, who may not hear directly from younger patients when they’re unhappy with their care.”

Clinical labs and pathology groups that monitor patient satisfaction should note this attribute of millennials. If they are unhappy with a venipuncture, for example, they are more likely to post a criticism on social media than to tell a lab staff member about the issue. For that reason, labs should be monitoring social media websites in order to post a timely and appropriate response to any criticisms about the lab posted by an unhappy millennial patient.

Lastly, because millennials grew up in the digital era, they are much more likely than the average patient to use online tools to inform their decision-making. More than half (54%) of millennials go online for healthcare information and use online reviews to help them select a physician. In contrast, only 39% of all “older” patients surveyed say the Web is their go-to healthcare information source.

“When I needed to find a new physician, I looked for a doctor within my insurance network and then turned to online reviews,” stated 25-year-old Kay Zimmermann in the Nuance news release. “Based on the comments, I ruled out several doctors, including one I was originally considering because someone mentioned they felt rushed and treated like a paycheck during their appointment.”

Surveys show that millennials shop for healthcare differently than baby boomers or Generation X, a change that Nuance Healthcare President Trace Devanny (above) says providers must recognize. (Photo copyright: TechRockies.com.)

Surveys show that millennials shop for healthcare differently than baby boomers or Generation X, a change that Nuance Healthcare President Trace Devanny (above) says providers must recognize. (Photo copyright: TechRockies.com.)

Nuance Healthcare President Trace Devanny believes pathologists and other providers must be aware of patients’ changing healthcare perspectives.

“This shift in how people shop for healthcare and greater transparency of information means providers need to understand who their patients are and what they are looking for when it comes to their care experience. Those that fail to do so will struggle to survive in the new world of healthcare economics,” said Devanny in Nuance’s SlideShare presentation of the survey results.

Steps Clinical Labs Can Take to Better Communicate with Younger Patients

For clinical laboratories, reaching this now largest generation of patients may mean refocusing how they interact with millennials by improving website information, providing pricing information, and increasing access to a patient’s lab test results.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has played a role in redefining the doctor-patient relationship. In an article appearing in the International Business Times (IBT), the healthcare legislation was labeled “both a blessing and a curse” for the younger generation.

The law has provided them with access to healthcare whether employed or not, but it failed to simplify health insurance. Half of millennials surveyed by ZocDoc, an online appointment scheduling website, visited a doctor less than once a year, with 93% saying they did not schedule preventative visits to the doctor, IBT reported.

“It’s not a priority,” Karen Soren, MD, told IBT. Soren is Director of Adolescent Medicine at New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and an Associate Professor at Columbia University Medical Center. “Some of us in the [medical] profession are a little worried about that. We feel it’s critical that they have a relationship with a healthcare professional who can follow them over time,” she said.

Millennials Substitute Retail/Urgent Care Clinics for Doctor’s Office Visits

Because they do not have established primary care managers, millennials tend to use retail clinics, urgent care clinics, and emergency rooms more often than other age groups. Such episodic care may lead to more work for clinical laboratories and pathology groups, but also fuels the rising cost of healthcare.

“That’s the biggest problem—there’s no ability to coordinate care and testing. There’s a lot of repeat testing and that’s bad for many reasons,” Soren told IBT, with health and cost chief among them.

Jen Mishory, Executive Director of Young Invincibles, a non-profit focused on providing millennials with information on healthcare, jobs, and the economy, says younger healthcare consumers will not hesitate to ask providers for a discount. (Photo copyright: The Young Invincibles.)

Jen Mishory, Executive Director of Young Invincibles, a non-profit focused on providing millennials with information on healthcare, jobs, and the economy, says younger healthcare consumers will not hesitate to ask providers for a discount. (Photo copyright: The Young Invincibles.)

Conversely, “cost-conscious” millennials have no problem challenging their own costs for medical care. Younger patients are twice as likely as the general population to request a discount on their medical bills. They also search for better deals and make value-based decisions, a PwC report revealed.

“You’re looking at a generation that has significant student debt, [which] has wages that have declined more rapidly than for older workers,” Jen Mishory, Executive Director of Young Invincibles. “Young people are trying to make sure they are getting the best deal possible because they need the best deal possible,” she said.

One conclusion that can be made from these surveys is that clinical laboratories and pathology groups will need to adapt to a changing healthcare environment in which social media savvy millennials use new tools to shop for care and demand more transparency from their care providers.

—Andrea Downing Peck

Related Information:

The Millennial Patient: New Data Highlights Key Differences Between Millennial and Baby Boomer Healthcare Consumers

How Millennials Shop for Healthcare in a Digital World

How Millennials Are Changing the Healthcare Experience

Healthcare 2015: Why Millennials Avoid Seeing Doctors

Here’s How Millennials Are Shaking Up the Healthcare System

Money Matters: Billing and Payment for a New Health Economy

Millennials as Consumers of Healthcare

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