Why Are Millennials Vital to Health Care?

By Jon Mertz
09:14 AM

Before we dive in, it is important to ensure we understand some of the characteristics of the Millennial Generation. The timing of this generation is generally those born between 1978 and 2000 (some say those born after 1980). Some of the characteristics of this generation include:*

  • 3/4 have created a profile on a social networking site
  • 2/3 say “you can’t be too careful” when dealing with people
  • 83% say they place their cell phone on or right next to their bed while sleeping
  • 38% have a tattoo, but 72% say they are hidden by clothing
  • 56% say they got vigorous exercise in the last 24 hours

*Millienials: A Portrait of Generation Next, Pew Research Center, February 2010

The characteristics carry a strong mix of using technology, incorporating social life into technology, being distinct while shielding some it, and embracing some healthy traits.

“Overall, Pew says, Millennials are confident, upbeat and open to change.”

Study: Millennial generation more educated, less employed, USA Today, 02/23/2010

They are generation next.

Disruption Is Required

The other generations have grown grumpy and more focused on the problems rather than the opportunities. Before you go off on me, I acknowledge this is an over-generalized statement and, for the record, I am not a Millennial (far from it). I am part of the grumpy Baby Boomer generation.

The non-Millennial generations are set in their ways, with a few slivers of success in adopting new technologies and engaging our health care in new ways. We need to take it up a notch; we need to disrupt the non-Millennial mindset.

To make the point, here are some key questions that should be answered:

  • How many Millennials are involved in committees for HL7 or other healthcare standards?
  • How many Millennials are involved in ONC task forces and committees?
  • How many Millennials are involved in the health industry trade groups such as HIMSS, AHIMA, RBMA, SIIM, etc.?
  • How many health care provider organizations or trade associations or standards organizations have a mentoring program to bring Millennials into the process and tap their energy and ideas?
  • How many Millennials attend healthcare IT trade shows and summits?

The easy answer is “not many.” Many are eligible to attend, meaning they are old enough and educated enough to add a valuable voice to the conversations.

I know, the first response will be “no one is stopping them from coming…” True, but how welcoming are we? How willing are we to involve them in the work that needs to be done and giving them a seat at the policy and standards-setting committees?

Why Do Millennials Matter to Health Care?

The systems, policies, and frameworks we are building today will be used by many Millennials going forward. This is true not only in their own personal health care but in caring for their parents and relatives as they enter their “golden” years. (Yes, they will be caring for us at some point.)

The direction we are setting; the dollars we are spending; and the systems we are putting in place – Millennials will be using for many years to come. We need to ensure the investments are usable for them. We need to ensure that it fits their mold of doing things. We need to ensure we give them the tools and applications to manage care effectively, efficiently, and interactively.

Two additional facts:

  1. “About 61% of health care organizations in the U.S. and Canada plan to add IT professionals to their staff this year, according to a study by research firm Computer Economics.” (Most Health Care Organizations Aim To Expand IT Staff This Year, iHealthBeat.org, 08/23/2011)
  2. 37% of 18- to 29-year-olds (Millennials) are unemployed or out of the workforce (see previous Pew Research reference)

More Millennials are likely coming into the health IT workforce. We need to get them involved in as many decisions as possible or, at a minimum, get their input for many of the initiatives.

A final consideration:  Millennials are well-networked, meaning they can build momentum around initiatives more quickly than other generations. Using their social networks and communication channels, adoption of technologies required and workflows needed may happen in a timely and encompassing manner.

Adoption can happen, potentially, much more quickly – whether it is an e-patient or i-patient, the reality is we have m-patients (Millennial-patients) who will want to manage their well-being with their data on their mobile device and electronically exchanged with their physicians.

Here’s the point:  Millennials have many characteristics that will enable change and innovation with a strong dash of technology-savviness.

What’s Next for Generation Next?

First, this is a call for Millennials to get engaged in our healthcare communities. It is a call to be enthusiastically involved, not apathetically sitting on the sidelines.

Second, this is a call for the other generations to bring in – or move aside – and let Millennials play key roles in the policy-setting, standards-making committees and organizations. We need to embrace generation next now to get their ideas and knowledge.

Organizations need to open their doors.

Millennials need to unabashedly accept, actively challenge, innovatively disrupt, and productively offer better ways to make our health care system work in this generation and beyond.

Why Are Millennials Vital to Health Care?

I believe Millennials will be at the center of numerous health care transformations – much sooner than we may realize.

I believe Millennials have a perspective we need to grasp now. To get started, Millennials need to be on many of the healthcare committees that are in place today.

I believe Millennials will embrace – and demand – better use of technology in the management of their health care.

I believe Millennials have the characteristics to be Whole Health passionate about our system as well as their personal well-being, and we need more people to adopt this mindset.

I believe we owe it to Millennials to involve them in the policies, standards, and technologies for their benefit and, self-servingly, ours.


Jon Mertz currently serves as the vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. His experience consists of a unique industry mix of healthcare software, IT infrastructure, sales & marketing consulting, and government. Jon has led several marketing organizations, conducting market research, developing customer programs, and working with partners to deliver complete customer solutions. Past companies and organizations include Deloitte, IBM, BMC Software, US Senate, and US Department of Commerce. He blogs at www.hl7standards.com