Millennials demand telehealth in a move away from traditional primary care model

Generational divides surface between millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers in how they engage with healthcare providers.
By Beth Jones Sanborn
03:57 PM
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It is no secret that millennials are a driving force in society today, and a new survey shows that their demands and behaviors differ from baby boomer and Gen Xers, and could reshape the healthcare industry especially when it comes to primary care and telehealth.

The 2017 Employee Benefit Research Institute/Greenwald & Associates Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey was conducted online Aug. 10 to Sept. 1, 2017, with participation from roughly 3,560 adults ages 21−64 who had health insurance provided through an employer, purchased directly from a carrier, or through a government exchange. Eighty-two percent of respondents receive coverage through an employer. The sample was weighted to reflect the actual proportions in the population ages 21– 64 with private, health insurance coverage. 

[Also: Intermountain creates a virtual hospital with telehealth tools and services]

Generational divides surface between millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers in how they engage with healthcare providers. The survey results showed baby boomers are more likely than Gen Xers and millennials to have a primary care provider, with 85 percent of baby boomers saying they have a PCP, compared to 78 percent of Gen Xers and 67 percent of millennials. 

Where they get services, especially at the primary care level, also illustrates age divides. Walk-in clinics have risen sharply in popularity thanks to fast service, less waiting and affordable pricing, all things millennials value in other areas of consumer life as well as healthcare. 

Survey results showed that both millennials and Gen Xers are more likely than baby boomers to report that they have used a walk-in clinic. Only 14 percent of baby boomers said they'd used a walk-in clinic, compared with 18 percent among Gen Xers and 30 percent among millennials.

Telemedicine is opening up new doors for those seeking care, consumers' own doors to be exact, bringing care conveniently into the home. Study result show the benefits to this innovative solution are not lost on millennials and Gen Xers, who are more likely than baby boomers to report that a telemedicine option is "extremely or very important," with 40 percent of millennials reporting that telemedicine is an extremely or very important option, compared with 27 percent among Gen Xers and 19 percent among baby boomers. 

Millennials are more likely than baby boomers and Gen Xers to shop around and research healthcare options too. Millennials were more likely to report that they found cost information than the other generational groups. They were also more likely to have checked on coverage for medications and quality ratings for a doctor or hospital before seeking care. They were also more likely to have talked to a doctor about prescription and treatment options and costs, and to have used an online cost-tracking tool provided by a health plan to manage expenses, the survey showed.

Millennials number over 75 million, outnumbering the baby-boom generation of about 74.9 million. Generation Xers are also expected to surpass the baby-boom generation in size in about a decade, so these trends should be of great interest to providers in how they develop strategies for growth and what they prioritize in terms of innovation. What type of patient they are catering to will matter in what they do and how they do it.

Clearly, telehealth should be a part of any provider's care strategy moving forward, and they should be looking for the means to implement it into their operations at some level. Primary care practices may do well to start emulating walk-in clinics in some respects, especially when it comes to wait times and availability of clinicians. Millennials and even Gen Xers are no longer willing to wait days or weeks to see a clinician and PCP practices that don't refine their operations to meet these patients' demands could see drops in patient volume over time as the population landscape shifts and younger cohorts start to dominate.

The study authors also cautioned that eventually millennials too will age, and that could cause more shifts in the healthcare landscape, making them a "moving target." 

"An open question is whether the way millennials engage with the healthcare system changes as they age and as a higher percentage of them move away from being dependents on their parents' plans. Millennials may answer questions one way today because of their current life stage, but that may change in the future."

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
Email the writer: beth.sanborn@himssmedia.com