What the car industry can teach healthcare about appealing to millennials

gorilla car sales manIf I didn’t know several people who fit this trend, I wouldn’t believe that many millennials are completely uninterested in driver’s licenses and owning a car.

I listened to an interview this morning about how car makers are trying to change this attitude.

Noah Nelson of Turnstyle News and NPR’s Sonari Glinton talked with technologists from several car makers about how they are changing cars to fit young people’s expectations of technology.

I saw three similarities between the challenges car makers face and the ones healthcare leaders are trying to figure out. First, the car makers’ strategy.

1. Young people have high expectations about interface, experience and convenience.

To lure young people back into the driver’s seat, Volkswagen and other car makers are trying to make cars as sleek and smart as phones.

Volkswagen’s vision boils down to this: bring its cars into the digital world and make them an extension of all the services millennials already love.

“The car should be intelligent enough to interact with other intelligent systems around you, like a smartphone being very intelligent about … your schedule, trying to propose and make arraignments for you,” Chuhee Lee, the deputy director at Volkswagen’s Electronic Research Lab, says.

Lee describes turning your whole car into sort of a voice-activated system like Apple’s Siri. And GM’s McFarland says his company, like VW, is working on cars that learn your habits — your schedules, destinations and radio stations. And, McFarland says, ideally, these cars get better with time.

“We think there’s opportunity to make it so that the day you drive it off the lot is the beginning, and you continue to personalize it and customize and add new content just like you do with a phone,” John McFarland, a director at General Motors, says.

2. The stakes are higher for car manufacturers – in both cost and safety.

Some of this technology is available now (or soon) but only in cars that start at $80,000. How does that help get young people to buy more cars?

To attract those without that kind of money, car companies have to put some of their most innovative, expensive technology in their cheapest cars.

Also, there is the life or death component of automobiles that smart phones don’t have to deal with.

“You can’t have the car reboot as you’re driving down the freeway and all the systems collapse,” Jeremy Anwyl, vice chairman of, says.

3. Finally, this is new territory for car makers.

“This is not their forte. They understand styling. They understand how to make a car look lower and leaner. There is a lot of functionality that you want to deliver to the consumers in a way that’s not confusing and it’s intuitive,” says Anwyl.

At one point in the story, GM’s McFarland says he’s not sure that any car company truly understands the next generation of car buyers.

You could say the same thing about the millennial customers for insurance exchanges or doctors or hospitals, or about any healthcare consumer who understands the power of technology and easy access to information. Healthcare products, treatments, services and experiences are all being dragged into the 21st century. All these things are being asked to match smart phones in terms design and sophistication.

Healthcare should follow the strategy GM, Toyota and VW are building: don’t expect customers to like what you have. Don’t ignore the world your patients live in. Instead, build what people want and what fits their needs and expectations. Also, admit that experience design is a new skill and accept that you have to figure it out.

And, for all of us who are impatient with the pace of progress, we have to remember that healthcare providers are not cell phone makers. The challenges of modernizing healthcare are more complicated than releasing the latest iPhone, and the consequences of getting it wrong are much higher.

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