Millennials: Getting to know the patients of tomorrow

When medical professionals think of Millennials it is often in the context of the social media generation, constantly glued to their phones. Millennials are digitally native with an active online presence. Their interactions with healthcare are beginning to have a sizeable impact. As it stands, 22% of all claims in South Africa are for patients falling into this generation. They contribute to such a sizable portion of your income stream, so it is worth investigating what the nature of this new patient is. Millennials are vastly different from those that have come before.

Patients of the past traditionally saw their doctors as experts who could guide them in pre-determined courses of treatment. Millennials, on the other hand, by nature are far more collaborative, and this goes for decisions that need to be made about their healthcare too. In addition they are tech-savvy and have access to volumes of medical information online. Consequently, they have often already done research and have thoughts and ideas on courses of treatment. But, with unlimited access to all sorts of information comes confusion – Millennials don’t know how to contrast the varying facts to identify which is the best course. Dr Google isn’t always best.

Millennials are also taking on the responsibility for their own healthcare. Health wearables are one example of this. They are flocking to buy fitness bands, smartwatches and other types of health monitors that empower them to take ownership of their own health. What they desire from the doctor is an interactive consultation that allows them to take control of their medical journey. This creates new opportunities for engagement, and Millennials would seem to be the ideal patient – one who is so engaged. The role of the primary healthcare provider remains as critical as ever, but in order to adapt to the Millennial’s needs will require flexibility, agility and a willingness to explore ways to move forward with rules that suit all parties.

We explore six examples that you can start applying at your practice for the era of patient engagement.

1. They want to know more about you

Over 40% of South Africa are active internet users, with Millennials making up a large chunk of that user base. As much as 27% of Millennials will search online for information on doctors before they see them; they want to know who you are, and where you’re at. Thus it is vital to have a well-managed digital presence. It’s also not a question of whether you will ’go online’ but rather what already exists about you. In most cases, doctors are already searchable on Google. It may be an interesting exercise for you to type in your own name and see what reviews your millennial patients have posted. (If you’ve never done this before, the reviews are in a box on the right-hand side of the screen when Google displays your search results).

The take-away being that progress in the digital space is constant, but so long as you maintain a basic awareness, you won’t find it such a shock to the system. A simple starting point: ensure that your details are correct with any website that you may appear on, e.g. your business hours, phone number, and directions on Google Search and Maps. All that’s required is a quick email or phone call to the owner of the website to correct such information. You could also bolster your profile on LinkedIn.

Katrina Lerman, senior researcher at Communispace and the author of a study titled entitled “Healthcare without Borders: How Millennials Are Reshaping Health and Wellness,” suggests the following: “Healthcare is no longer something confined to the traditional channels of the hospital and the doctor’s office. It’s happening in a discussion with a friend over coffee, an online search in the drugstore, or a lunchtime yoga class. Brands that can internalise and integrate these new millennial values have the opportunity to partner with consumers to create the healthcare future we all want to see.” The same applies to the healthcare industry as a whole, and specifically primary healthcare.

2. Start with great conversation

Patients of all generations visit doctors because they are experts in their field and can provide the healthcare they need. The difference between generations is the way in which they want to receive that care. Older generations are comforted by stability, authority and definitive structure whereas millennials require a collaborative healthcare process that prioritises their needs. This means a more engaged patient that will be asking more questions. Millennials are more comfortable with self-help than previous generations and will often come to a consultation armed with specific views and opinions. This is because of the ease and convenience of the internet, however, this information is not always the best or most appropriate form of action. In some cases, it leads to greater harm to the patient. For that reason, it is crucial that patients see doctors as a necessary component in their medical decisions.

To bridge this gap, doctors need to begin to see themselves as valuable partners to guide and empower millennials. Conversations with millennial patients need to leave them feeling as though their opinions are respected and that they have been a meaningful participant in reaching the final course of action. Doctors will always remain the experts but building a healthcare roadmap for a patient will need to become a lot more fluid than it has been in the past.

3. Convenience matters to millennials

The nature of the digital age is to prioritise speed, convenience, and value. The millennial, being digitally native, is exactly the same. This extends from their interactions online to their experiences in healthcare. Doctors do need to look at ways to adapt their practice to meet these expectations in order to meaningfully connect with their patients. From online bookings to convenient payment methods, SMS alerts and online calendars, practices already have a multitude of digital solutions to choose from. It is OK that you make changes incrementally, but it is vital that practices start it thinking about ways to increase the convenience and speed of the new doctor-patient process.

Looking to future proof your medical practice? If you’re looking for information to help you begin the journey, click here and we’ll have one of our consultants get in touch.

4. Meeting them where they’re at

One of the main characteristics of Millennials is that they are constantly connected. In order for doctors to meaningfully engage with them it requires that they meet their patients were they are – online. Due to the nature of their online interactions, Millennials have become accustomed to quick responses.

Often when attempting to deal with Millennials, businesses use a blanket approach based on the general understanding of their behaviour. The problem is that the millennial is not looking for a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, but one that is customised to their specific needs. Engage with your younger patients around which communication channels work for them and start there. It also need not be the most sophisticated or untested applications that you make use of. In our own Healthbridge community we have doctors using the common WhatsApp application to send patients their scripts, test results, and appointment reminders.

5. Set clear expectations

Consistency is important, particularly to millennials. As we adapt to the changing patient identity, it is important to set expectations that we can meet every time. It is also important to set down boundaries and what you can achieve within practice parameters. Make sure that your patients know where they can find you and when you will be unavailable to respond. Often, doctors are concerned about being bombarded at all hours of the day by patients with questions, the key is to set clear boundaries and communicate them to your patients. Consider providing your patients with guidance of where they can go for general queries, particularly when you are unavailable. Perhaps this comes in the form of a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page on your practice’s website or links to specific websites that you trust. The key is clear communication with your patients.

6. Seize the opportunity

The Millennial is known to be brand loyal, significantly more so than previous generations. The opportunity for practices when building their relationships with this generation of patient is that, when done right, it will last. To become preferred by Millennials, medical professionals need to rethink and evolve their care delivery model and the way they communicate. It will mean prioritising convenience and transparency, embracing digital tech and finding other, creative ways to deliver value. Millennials want to engage with you, and if you do so you’ll see returning patient that remains steadfast and loyal.

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