80M and counting: Why care what millennials want?

Millennials, as the group is defined, represent the largest generation in U.S. history. Generally speaking, they form the age range between 18 and 35 years old. In actuality, though, there's no such thing as a millennial.

Consider this: the life experiences of an 18-year-old and a 35-year-old are vastly different. While an 18-year-old grew up in an all-digital world, a 35-year-old grew up in an analog world that became digital later on. A 35-year-old is familiar with renting a new release from their local Blockbuster; an 18-year-old, by contrast, has only a notion of what Blockbuster is because their world revolves almost exclusively around streaming services.

Even though an 18-year-old and a 35-year-old have vastly different ways of perceiving the world, as a generation they're incredibly influential. Just as the baby boomer generation before them, millennials are exerting considerable influence on all sectors of society.

For example, when it comes to brand, millennials expect everything about an organization — from the end product or service, to the app, to the design of a physical space — to reflect a brand's values, and they tend to subsequently select brands in which they see their own values reflected. More importantly, millennials are "alpha-influencers" who believe in sharing when they have a good or bad experience with a brand, strengthening their ability to shape the behavior and purchasing decisions of their larger social circles. As a result, numerous market sectors — like retail — are paying close attention to what millennials think, what millennials do, and what millennials value. And they're investing heavily in crafting services, products and messaging to appeal to millennials.

The healthcare industry is wise to do the same by investing time and resources into understanding what millennials want in a healthcare experience. Because where millennials go, others will follow. And while millennials tend to be lower utilizers of healthcare resources, following their lead is still important. A greater understanding of millennials will help providers more proactively build infrastructure for future service and care delivery models.

Importantly, millennials define health differently than generations that precede them. For them, health is holistic, grounded in choices and habits that happen every day. Beyond traditional definitions, health for millennials is also about food choices, feeling energetic, making and deepening social connections, and stimulating intellectual curiosity. For some, it also includes spiritual awareness and mindfulness. This has sparked a transformation of roles for healthcare organizations, shifting from reactive centers that just treat disease and illness to proactive facilitators of connecting patients to health and wellness resources.

Because millennials tend to be more participatory in their healthcare, they expect to be informed and consulted regarding care options. They demand transparency, value, quality, convenience and engagement in their healthcare experiences. Equally as important, millennials don't revere the traditional health enterprise to the same extent that older adults sometimes do. So, when their baseline expectations aren't met, they look for alternatives or demand change.

And, of course, millennials expect everything in real time. They want iPhone-supported applications and tablet access wherever they go. They ask Siri. They scour WebMD on their smartphones to self-diagnose ailments. But while they value how technology can enable face-to-face physician relationships through elements such as Skype or FaceTime, many still heavily value the relationship with the care team. While many view virtual visits as a way to save time and fit health into their hectic lives, many consider this an option only after a care team "knows them." So even though they demonstrate high degrees of acumen with technology, it doesn't replace their desire for human interactions and getting guidance from someone they trust. They look to technology to eliminate inefficiency and leverage it as an enabler of relationships and trust — not as a replacement.

In other words, it would be a mistake to assume that all millennials want a completely digital healthcare experience. 

So what does all of this mean? Even though there are lessons to be learned in how millennials approach their health, it's important to note that the lives of a young millennial and an older millennial are drastically different. While it's critically important that health providers pay attention to what millennials want, when it comes to designing services and end-to-end experiences, healthcare providers must also design to archetypes or use cases. Because while millennials as a group may exert certain trends, individual nuance matters. It's not to say that we shouldn't care about overall millennial trends, it's just that an 18-year-old has never known a life without cell phones or social media and a 35-year-old can remember a life with only landlines and pen pals. So, pay attention to generational trends, but keep in mind that every individual comes with their own expectations and experiences when it comes to healthcare.

This article is an excerpt from HDR Architecture's inaugural edition of Delta, a book aiming to help healthcare organizations not only embrace the rapid change that surrounds them, but thrive in it. For a complimentary copy of Delta, visit http://www.hdrinc.com/delta.

Custom Care:
"The delivery of healthcare is often configured as 'one-size-fits-all' even though an older adult with multiple chronic conditions and the twenty-something Millennial have very different needs and expectations. We need to find ways to redesign the system for all its various users."

Amy Lussetto
Strategic Innovation Designer at HDR

What Millennials expect when it comes to healthcare:
Choice     Energy     Connections     Education     Relationships     Mindfulness     Transparency     Speed     Convenience     Quality     Tech-enabled     Independence     Efficiency     Clarity     Relatability     Accessibility 

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