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Nancy Napier: What millennials want in health care

I’m a sucker when it comes to information about demographics. We can see the trends coming years ahead, so it should be straightforward for organizations and leaders to plan for them. But that, of course, assumes leaders think through what the implications might be long before they are hit by these population waves.

For half a century, the baby boomers have influenced much of the direction of the economy, social trends and, increasingly, health care and retirement. In the last decade, though, the emphasis has begun shifting to the 80 million millennials as they enter — and eventually dominate — the workplace. I have considered what they mean in the workplace, but I had never really thought about what this group will mean for health care.

An article by Casey Le Jeune, published in the online site Elevar last year (http://elevarco.com/2014/09/hello-world-3/), raises several questions that health care institutions, employers and these young people will face.

This is the first generation to be widely plugged in digitally, which affects how they will expect to interact with all sorts of product and service providers, not just health care. They are diverse in terms of race. They are savvy consumers unmoved by more traditional marketing campaigns. They look to their peers or other users for information about which brands, restaurants and perhaps even health care plans to buy. They want products and services that cater to them as individuals. Perhaps one of the biggest traits is that millennials like to buy from and interact with organizations they think “do good” in the world.

In addition, according to Le Jeune, the millennials will (eventually) have money to spend, some $1.4 trillion a year by 2020, in the U.S. alone. When they turn 26, individuals will be making their own health choices, and they will need to be wooed.

So how will all of this affect health-care organizations, from hospitals to physician groups, insurance firms to pharmacies?

First, these organizations need to know how to reach multiple audiences. Boomers and Generation X’ers may still go for the more traditional approaches, but millennials will need to be persuaded differently. They evaluate and buy online and expect rapid response when they do.

Second, organizations may need to find ways to be seen not only as trustworthy but perhaps also as ones that do good. Related to that, some millennials talk about wanting a connection with an organization – one that matters to them. Again, this demands a more customized focus rather than clumping.

All of this boils down to what Le Jeune talks about as coming up with “disruptive innovations” for a new, demanding group of customers: They will want “meaningful” health information that can be “easily absorbed and … acted upon.”

And if health care providers can do that for the millennials, the rest of us might benefit as well. After all, who wouldn’t want “meaningful … easily absorbed and acted on” health information?

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