More on Patient Engagement

Providers focusing more on attracting, retaining millennial consumers

Used to having choice and convenience, they're a discerning bunch, less loyal than previous generations and more prone to switching providers

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

A patient has just paid a visit to their provider to have some lab work done. The experience was generally pleasant. But the patient has to wait until another visit to see the lab results … and oh, there were parts of the waiting room that may have looked a little grungy. Will the hospital retain this person as a patient?

If the patient is a millennial, then perhaps not.

Millennials are proving a unique cohort when it comes to healthcare. Used to having choice and convenience as consumers, they're a discerning bunch, less loyal than previous generations and more prone to switching providers if they feel their level of service isn't up to par. In some quarters, that has made retaining millennials as customers a somewhat tricky endeavor.

Matt Rowan, president and CEO of the Health Industry Distributors Association, said millennials expect their healthcare experiences to match up with the experiences they have in the consumer world, where time-saving convenience and a host of services are to be expected. Meeting those demands is important for any provider seeking to build brand loyalty, an ongoing relationship with the consumer.

"The commodity they value the most is their time," said Rowan. "Redundancy is seen as a waste of their most valuable resource.

"This just mirrors the experiences in their general consumer lives," he said, "where they have a great deal of access to information, and they can use their tech skills to make sure they get a quality experience. They want to apply that same process to their healthcare experiences."

[Also: 20% of consumers would swap doctors for one that offered telehealth services, American Well says]

Technology is a key component in reaching that demographic, said Rowan. Millennials have grown up with gadgets, and use them to connect not only with themselves but with the broader world. Providers who are successful in their efforts at millennial outreach have adopted things like mobile apps that allow patients to have increased access to clinicians, or schedule reminders about appointments.

And that grungy waiting room? A millennial will likely notice that, too. A clean space isn't the most high-tech of solutions, but it can go a long way, said Rowan, as many young people use these surface details to make inferences about the quality of care they're going to get.

"Back in the day, airlines said that if passengers saw a dirty tray table, it made them question how much time they were spending on engine maintenance," he said. "They draw perceptions as to the quality of service they're about to receive."

Anna Yeager, a marketing manager for patient experience solutions at Medline, and a millennial herself, said her generation has high standards when it comes to all service they receive, and increasingly in healthcare.

"I want to feel informed, I want to feel engaged, and just empowered throughout the whole experience," said Yeager. "Millennials, including myself, are much more vocal than other generations, and form very strong opinions. Whether it's a positive experience or a negative experience, we don't see much in the middle."

Retaining their business, she said, requires a multi-pronged approach. The look of the waiting room and a provider's mobile offerings all come into play, but so do little graceful touches -- care packs, for example with various accessories (earplugs, eye mask, lip balm), can help reach a patient on a more emotional level, and promote a special connection between patients and the hospital staff.

"They really have one shot," Yeager said of providers. "Millennials are going to be the ones who change providers if they have a bad experience or didn't get the care they expected."

[Also: Small practices, population health groups benefit from affordable technology]

Providers can partner with third-party entities to help provide solutions both high- and low-tech, whether it be pre-surgical kits or online accoutrements. But no matter what's on offer, it should come in a package that rivals consumers' experiences in retail and other spheres of their lives, said Yeager.

Rowan said the consumerism trend isn't going away anytime soon.

"It definitely is a general trend, and our research shows that trend is accelerating," he said. "But that's more pronounced among the millennials. They want that to a much greater degree. An example would be having your lab diagnostic results when you go to see your doctor. If you have to make a second trip, or track down numbers on your phone, those things are quickly becoming unappealing to the millennial generation.

"You have to earn their business with every interaction," he said. "They know what they want: quality care in a safe environment that's convenient."

Tailoring products and services to appeal to millennials doesn't have to be cost prohibitive, said Rowan. Even seeing the staff using hand sanitizers can put minds at ease. Really, it's all about crafting a positive patient experience that not only retains the customer, but perhaps inspires them to write a positive review online -- which, as a metric of quality, is becoming increasingly important to a more discerning public.

Rowan predicts that the next step in appealing to millennials is increased price transparency, especially with the prevalence of high-deductible plans.

[Also: Geisinger CEO calls for an end to ER waiting rooms, advocates for consumer-centric model]

"If you look at what they get in the consumer world, they can see the quality of what they're going to get as well as the price point," said Rowan. "They're going to use their tech skills to select providers, and it's just a matter of aligning your marketing or outreach to match up to what they're used to seeing in the other parts of their consumer lives."

Yeager said the future of healthcare will be very patient-centered.

"I really think it's going to be a lot about focusing on the patient, making sure hospitals are focused on new technologies, and focused on touching the patients in multiple capacities," she said. "We're looking at healthcare early on -- preventative measures. If I saw a facility that was invested in those areas, that is a facility I would be drawn towards."

Twitter: @JELagasse