Mobile apps allow us to book ahead and avoid the lines at our favorite chain restaurants, or to eagerly track the shipping progress of that must-have item we ordered online.
The same technology can improve wait times and the overall customer service experience in health care settings, Patrick Michael Plummer believes.
And that, he said, is becoming increasingly critical as a generation of tech-savvy consumers transforms the relationship between medical providers and patients. Failure to adapt could mean failure to survive, the professor of health administration at Penn State Harrisburg recently warned industry professionals at the Central Penn Business Journal’s 2017 healthcare symposium.
“Millennials have grown up in a world where Amazon has shaped their perceptions of what a service should be,” said Plummer, who was one of several experts to speak at the event.
“Convenience and speed are among top priorities for millennials. The desire for easy access permeates their lives,” he added.
Millennial consumers are also more likely to select health and medical services using the online and social media research skills they use for other life choices, such as the online rating service Yelp, suggested Loren Robinson, Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary for health promotion and disease prevention.
“They want to look up the provider — where did they go to med school? How many stars do they have?” Robinson said.
A key demographic
Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 1996, have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, the Pew Research Center notes, numbering more than 75 million.
They make up 20.1 percent of the nation as a whole, and just under 20 percent of the Pennsylvania and Harrisburg metro populations, Plummer added. But the midstate also is adjacent to the largest concentration of Millenials nationwide, a cluster that takes in the Mid Atlantic and East Coast regions, he pointed out, so the health and wellness needs of that generation will be felt more strongly here than in other parts of the nation.
To put these statistics into a healthcare perspective, 90 percent of all new moms in America are millennials, Plummer added.
With so many of them and so much potential clout, what do millennials want from a healtcare provider? Plummer cited statistics from the Virginia-based Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA) looking at the generation’s key preferences. Among them:
• Lower out-of-pocket costs. They tend to be more price-sensitive, and place higher expectations on providers.
HIDA research showed that 60 percent of millennials acknowledged that costs influenced their evaluation of a provider, 41 percent postponed seeking healthcare because it was too expensive and 22 percent selected or changed providers to decrease or avoid out of pocket costs.
“Price transparency is important. They’re more willing to challenge it,” Plummer said. “The most succesful providers” will work hardest to lower costs, using data, and will make sure customers know this, he added.
• Faster treatment. This is why 43 percent of millennials said they used urgent care services over the previous year, according to 2016 HIDA research, compared with 23 percent of other generations. Twenty-three percent of millennials used retail health clinics, compared with 9 percent of other generations.
“Diagnosis and treatment on same visit not just considered value, but expected,” Plummer said.
That, combined with millennials reputation for being early adopters of new technology, may help explain why 9 percent used telemedicine services, according to HIDA, compared with 2 percent of other generations.
Jay Simmons, vice president for provider network engagement at Capital BlueCross, said he sees a definite generation gap in telemedicine, with younger generations seemingly more willing to embrace the technology.
Dr. Glenn W. Mitchell, professor of healthcare informatics at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, said that patients do seem to accept telemedicine, broadly speaking, as high-tech, quality care. But he also sees it as gaining traction more quickly with younger generations — such as his daughter, who lives in Philadelphia and finds that telehealth consultations for her young children save time and are often more convenient than traditional office visits.
Plummer cited another use of technology that helps make care more convenient for busy patients.
Zoom Care, an urgent care provider based in the Pacific Northwest, uses a mobile app to give patients access to scheduling, transparent pricing, live chats with doctors, lab results and rating their doctors.
It’s a model Plummer thinks more in the industry need to adopt. He illustrated this for the symposium audience by displaying photos of the Zoom Care app beside his app for restaurant chain Chili’s — both of which offer immediate service through the app, one for scheduling a table, the other for scheduling an emergency room visit.
“If you don’t have to wait in line at a chain restaurant, thanks to apps, why should you have to wait for care?” he said.
But responding to millennials’ preferences isn’t enough, Plummer said. Those practices who successfully capture and retain patients need to collect patient feedback, analyze that data, and use it to improve their services, so patients will return and also share positive accounts of their experiences.
Plummer cited HIDA research showing that 68 percent of the generation researches providers using government rating sites, 57 percent asked friends and family about their experiences, 32 percent looked at Consumer Reports and 29 percent looked providers up on Yelp.
“Millennials will rate healthcare services just as they do any product or service — vocally and in public,” he said. “To become preferred brands, healthcare organizations will need to adopt retail customer service practices.”