Communicating with millennial patients

September 10, 2018

Millennials are now the largest segment of our population, and they bring a different set of expectations and needs to health care than previous generations. On the plus side, millennial patients often take great responsibility for their own health. They tend to seek out information on ailments or injuries online in blogs, forums, and social media, before seeking a physician’s advice.

Generally speaking, millennials are less trusting of authorities, including health care providers and the pharmaceutical industry as a whole. Therefore, they tend to seek health care guidance not only from their physicians and from online sources, but also from their friends, family, coworkers, and other peers. Overall, they look at their physicians as “partners” or equals when it comes to medical care. While they do see primary care providers as important sources of health information, millennial patients tend to view the “final word” in the exam room as their own.

In many ways, these patients represent greater opportunities for communication and collaboration. And it will be up to the medical community to meet this patient population half way. This need will become more important, as these patients determine care options for themselves and for their aging parents and young children.

ATTRIBUTES OF MILLENNIAL PATIENTS

The following attributes have been identified as typical of the millennial generation. This patient population is known to:

  • appreciate honesty, feedback, and constructive criticism;
  • ask questions;
  • want to be heard and be part of the decision-making process;
  • seek out innovations, and are often “early adopters” of new technologies and products;
  • prefer 24/7 availability, because they are mobile, highly connected, and often have nontraditional work/life schedules;
  • be more careful about health care spending, due to frequent unemployment;
  • dislike being labeled;
  • be environmentally and socially conscious;
  • use mobile devices in a variety of ways (phone, social media, texting, apps);
  • prefer to first try over-the-counter medications before seeking a physician for diagnosis and treatment;
  • be concerned about “overmedicating” and are twice as likely as other patients to stop taking a prescription as soon as they feel better, against their physician’s advice; and
  • be the most educated generation ever, with higher rates of participation in and graduation from high school through graduate school than previous generations.1,2,3,4 

ONLINE RESEARCH

Pediatricians often experience scenarios like this: a millennial parent arrives at a physician’s office with printouts and smartphone links to online articles. The parent says, “I’m trying to decide whether to vaccinate my daughter. I’ve done a lot of reading and found a lot of pros and cons. Before I make a final decision, what do you think?” 5

What can you do in this type of situation? A deluge of online, often conflicting information can be paralyzing for anyone, and millennials tend to deeply research online resources. So, your help and guidance is vital. In this scenario, it would be helpful to evaluate the patient’s gathered information, identify any knowledge gaps, and help to fill them in.

Open dialogue and respect tend to be keys to earning millennial patients’ trust and influencing their health care decision-making. If a parent’s research is dismissed too quickly, a physician risks fostering distrust and negatively affecting the physician-patient relationship.

Due to the mistrust of “big pharma,” discussion and reassurance may also need to accompany a prescription. The importance of completing a course of medication may need to be explained, along with assurances that overmedication will not occur.

COMMUNICATING WITH MILLENNIAL PATIENTS

Here are some communication tips to consider when treating millennial patients.1,2,3

  • Relate. Be authentic, friendly, and open-minded. Talk to them as a peer and avoid unnecessary medical terms or jargon.
  • Keep it brief. Millennials communicate extensively online, usually on mobile devices. “Cell phones” are used for much more than a simple phone conversation. When they do make a phone call, interactions tend to be brief and to the point.
  • Find out what they already know. Asking questions and engaging the patient in an open dialogue can help you determine your patient’s knowledge level, and positions you as a trusting collaborator.
  • Increase use of alternate forms of communication. This patient population prefers text and email to phone calls or face-to-face conversations. Consider alternatives to phone messages or meetings. For example, determine how a younger patient wants to receive a medical test result. Be open to providing information in ways that conform to HIPAA regulations without a phone conversation.
  • Be mobile- and web-friendly. Optimize your website for mobile devices. Allow for appointments to be made online. Consider quick “online” appointments to determine if in-person visits are necessary. Since millennials prefer to learn on their own, they tend to respond well if you post videos and infographics that are straightforward, clear, and easy to access online.
  • Learn to communicate on social media. A diverse social media platform is essential. “Like,” tweet, chat, share, hashtag, meme, emoji – you and your practice need to know these important terms and seek to use the tools involved, such as Twitter and Reddit. Keep up with how millennials communicate online by asking them about it during office visits. What’s new? What’s popular? What’s passé? Take notes and, if necessary, get informal tutorials from knowledgeable office staff.
  • Become a trusted “brand.” Overall, millennials are very brand conscious. They put a lot of loyalty into a brand that earns their trust. Because of the overwhelming amount of information online, millennial patients tend to rely upon each other for help in sifting through the “clutter” to find a trusted product or service. They use social media to spread the word about brands they believe in.
    CDC figures show that 90 percent of 18-to-24-year- olds trust medical information, such as a physician referral, shared on social networks.4 If your millennial patient clearly had a good experience in your office, ask her or him to post an online review.
    Also, this population expects more from their trusted brands in terms of social justice and activism. They want to use brands that reflect their own personal values. Share your charitable contributions and volunteer work online. Consider sharing information about “good works” accomplished by the makers of any brand-named products you provide.
  • Curate content for “homework assignments.” Consider doing your own online research, and recommend apps, podcasts, story links, blogs, web pages, or other information to patients that are relevant to common concerns. If you collect them on your own mobile device, you can immediately share them with a patient’s device. Such authoritative content helps millennials appreciate and more closely follow your medical guidance. They may also “share” your recommended content online, adding to your legitimacy, reach, and all-important “brand.”
  • Help them navigate the system. Physicians and staff members know what a labyrinth health care can be. Build credibility (and your brand) by helping millennials navigate it, as needed. Like all patients, they will appreciate this type of added care.

FACING THE FUTURE

Millennials are the country’s largest generation and the primary consumers and decision-makers for their families. They are making medical decisions for their parents— baby boomers aging into their 60s and beyond. About 30 percent of millennials are parents; therefore, they are currently shaping the health care habits and beliefs of their children. In addition, more than half of this patient population contributes to the health care decisions of spouses, parents, and siblings.4

Providers must innovate or risk losing these patients to other physicians who adapt better to this generation or to online options. Going forward, best practices will be to attempt to understand these patients, earn their respect and loyalty over the long term, and create healthy outcomes that all wish to see.

SOURCES

  1. Castelli, Giovanni. 10 tips to better manage millennials. Modern Medicine Network, March 2017. Available at http://optometrytimes.modernmedicine.com/optometrytimes/news/10-tips-better-manage-millennials.
    Accessed April 4, 2018.
  2. Puri, Rikita. Millennials and Healthcare: 3 Tips to Reach Young, Stubborn Patients. ReferralMD, 2014. Available at https://getreferralmd.com/2014/02/gen-y-health-7-tips-reach-millennial-patients/.
    Accessed April 4, 2018.
  3. Eisenhauer, Tim. How to Communicate with Millennials at Work – 23 Surefire Tips to Retire the Stereotypes. Axero Solutions, September 2015. Available at https://axerosolutions.com/blogs/timeisenhauer/pulse/307/how-to-communicate-with-millennials-at-work-23-surefire-tips-to-retire-the-stereotypes.
    Accessed April 4, 2018.
  4. Wenk, Ryan. Millennial Health In The Digital Age. JPA Health Communications, April 2017. Available at https://www.jpa.com/blog/2017/04/13/millennial-health-digital-age/.
    Accessed April 5, 2018.
  5. O’Connor Vos, Lynn. The New World of Healthcare: What Millennials Want. Available at https://ghgroup.com/sites/default/files/2016-11/952165_ghe_white_paper_final.pdf.
    Accessed April 4, 2018. 

This article is included in the Reporter Q3 2018.

About the Authors

Steve Taylor is a medical writer and former Communications Manager with the Seton Healthcare Family in Austin, Texas.

More Content by Steve Taylor

Wayne Wenske is Senior Marketing Coordinator at Texas Medical Liability Trust.

More Content by Wayne Wenske
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