Health IT

What brands need to know about Millennials and their health

In a recent study, a little more than half (55 percent) of Millennials say they would go see a doctor right away if they discovered a lump on their neck, versus 73 percent of non-Millennials. What’s even more surprising is that Millennials consider maintaining a work/life balance to be more important to their overall health […]

In a recent study, a little more than half (55 percent) of Millennials say they would go see a doctor right away if they discovered a lump on their neck, versus 73 percent of non-Millennials. What’s even more surprising is that Millennials consider maintaining a work/life balance to be more important to their overall health and well-being than either regular health checkups or having health insurance.

It’s clear that Millennials approach their health from a fundamentally different perspective than other generations, and it’s not just because of their youth or live-in-the-moment attitude. During the past decade, Millennials have faced unprecedented levels of student debt, a recession marked by extended unemployment, and the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Their generational values, shaped by many of these same events, are directly reflected in their approach to healthcare: a detachment from institutions; a propensity to gather, curate, and share data; a concern with the origin and lifecycle of their products; a desire to engage with and unplug from technology; an emphasis on work/life balance; and a focus on the present over the future.

Serving Millennial consumers means working with, not against, this reality. Understanding their unique challenges, needs, and priorities is essential, not just for healthcare brands, but – in a broader, more economically competitive health and wellness landscape – for all brands. In our multi-method study of over 2,000 consumers, we examined the mindsets and motivations of these younger consumers and how brands can make relevant connections with them.

Millennials are Like “Huh?” about Obamacare

Like most Americans, Millennials view the entire U.S. healthcare system as a dysfunctional collusion – mired in politics, power, and profits – with 37 percent rating the current state of healthcare in America as “poor” or “terrible,” compared to only 22 percent who believe it’s “good” or “great.” Despite near-constant advances in medical care and recently expanded coverage opportunities, only 29 percent of Millennials agreed that the healthcare system today is better than it was in their parents’ day.

Millennials ascribe much of the blame to government — 49 percent say the government is most responsible for the problems with healthcare in America today. In general, Millennials have mixed feelings about the ACA: 35 percent say the law has been both good and bad for America, compared to 20 percent who say it has been good and nearly 25 percent who say it has been bad.

Millennials are also more likely than older adults to say they have no opinion or don’t know enough about the ACA. In fact, in many cases, dissatisfaction with the law is driven by confusion or lack of information rather than actual negative experiences. As a result, Millennials were more likely to express a wait-and-see attitude or even hope that the ACA could lead to positive changes in the future. Millennial Chad D. summed up his generation’s point-of-view in this way: “Lightning can seem like a violent, damaging act which causes fire and destruction, but it is also the sign of storms and rain, which bring about growth. Same thing with the ACA. Different people can make you see different things about it.”

Millennials “Can’t Even” with Traditional Healthcare

Across demographics, Millennials display a real reluctance to engage with the healthcare system as traditionally defined. This trend is fed by many factors, including their own negative experiences or those of friends and family; recent changes to the healthcare industry driven by the ACA; a lack of trust in institutions; and ever-present uncertainty about costs and coverage. As a result, they seek care and advice from a wide range of people and places.

Just over half of Millennials have visited a doctor’s office in the past year, compared to nearly three-quarters of non-Millennials. By contrast, Millennials are more likely to have utilized a range of care options, from urgent care clinics to emergency rooms to home remedies. They are more likely to self-diagnose (28 percent) or treat at home (36 percent) before doing going to a doctor. Nearly a quarter say they’ve sought medical advice from friends and family in the past year, and 53 percent consider them to be a trusted source of information.

Millennials Prioritize Wellness, Because Health

Millennials have a broad definition of what it means to be healthy and well. Compared to older consumers, Millennials view their health more holistically, which again reflects many of their generation’s hallmark values. Nearly half of Millennials consider maintaining a work/life balance to be part of their health and wellness (ranking it above regular dental or physical exams or health insurance). More than a quarter say organic, natural, and non-toxic products are part of maintaining their health, and may see them as alternatives to traditional medicine. They recognize the importance of relaxation and mental health in maintaining long-term health and thus are more likely to consider unplugging from technology, meditation, massage, and talk therapy as elements of staying well. In fact, 55 percent agree that a healthy mind leads to a healthy body, not the other way around.

For Millennials, healthcare is not a separate sphere, financially, emotionally, or physically; it’s not about what happens at the doctor’s office, it’s about small, everyday choices and actions. It’s happening in a discussion with a friend over coffee, a hypochondriac’s Facebook news feed, a Google search in the drugstore, a “detox” afternoon in the middle of the work week, or an abuse survivor’s support group.

For brands, this means an explosion of opportunities and a seat at the table for companies far outside of the traditional healthcare system. But it also means recognizing that the fundamental locus of control in healthcare has shifted from providers and big businesses to the Millennial consumer. Not only are they empowered by technology, connectivity, and access to information, but political and financial changes to the healthcare system have put patient outcomes front and center. At the same time, competing financial pressures mean Millennials make direct tradeoffs between healthcare spending and other purchases, leading them far outside the traditional system of care in an attempt to cut costs. Brands must meet consumers where they are – by expanding definitions of healthcare and embracing institutional aversion – to have a chance at truly moving our healthcare system from treatment to prevention.

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