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March 5, 2020

Is digital engagement the key to reaching and empowering millennials to take control of their health? The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association recently held cross-country listening sessions and found that the answer may be yes — but the millennials are looking for far more than just another app.  

“Health care is like Facebook in an Instagram world,” said one millennial participant. “It’s not keeping in step with current needs and wants.” 

As the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association's Health of America® report on millennial health trends found, millennials don’t seem to be fully engaging with their health benefits. For example, only 63 percent have a primary care provider (PCP), leaving 37 percent without consistent access to preventive care. To compare that to their older coworkers and colleagues, only 9 percent of Gen Xers don’t have a PCP.

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While it’s clear millennials are looking for better ways to interact with the health care system, it’s not exactly clear what that means. For example, a recent Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association National Millennial Health survey found that two-thirds of millennials are aware of telemedicine, yet only 14 percent have used it. For those who have used it, the majority (66 percent) are satisfied and would use it again. Only 20 percent of millennials say they would not try telemedicine and 31 percent are undecided, so there is an opportunity to increase use by providing better access.      

For BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, the health and preferences of millennials are critical parts of strategic decisions. 

“We recognize they want to interface with technology and systems differently than other generations and are actively engaging and adapting to their preferences. Trying to force them into 'the old way' will certainly not be successful,” says Tripp Jennings, M.D., clinical innovation officer with BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina. “They are critical to our economy and we are tailoring our programs and technology to optimize their health, productivity and happiness.” 

Defining Digital Engagement in Health Care

If using digital tools is a possible solution to help create a better overall health care experience for millennials, where do health care groups start? What should BlueCross consider moving forward? Listening tour participants explained how they see digital playing a bigger role in the world of health care. Here are some of their responses:

  • The majority use digital tools to track their health and get answers to health questions. They also expect providers to have online scheduling, and they see the ability to schedule appointments online as table stakes.
  • Millennials want health care that is individualized to their needs and easy to access, reflecting the experience they receive with digital solutions and apps, like Kayak and Uber, further noting that these solutions meet them where they are.
  • Speaking of apps, instant gratification or gamification to improve health engagement would be valuable. An example they shared was being able to know the immediate impact on their health from the foods they eat.
  • In addition to apps, millennials want providers to communicate with them through the same digital tools they use to communicate with everyone else, such as text and email. 
  • Millennials want access to their medical records, so the information is easily shareable with whoever they choose. The national survey supported this point, finding that 87 percent of millennials are comfortable having total control of their medical records.
  • Millennials also want instant access to information on health, wellness and cost, adding that any type of engagement needs to be authentic and customized. At the same time, they felt as though there is an oversaturation of information online, and it’s difficult to access the information you need efficiently without being overwhelmed by too much content. 
  • Not all millennials want a cookie-cutter experience for something that’s as important as their health. Some may want telehealth, while others may prefer an office visit. They want choices in accessing health care, and choices should be convenient and accessible, like longer/later office hours or the option to text/email doctors.

Avoiding Information Overload

The Association’s conversations with millennials also came with an important caveat: App and information overload is very real. A new app or digital solution needs to solve a problem, provide a service that is currently unmet and be something that encourages regular use. Additionally, the millennials on the listening tour admitted that they often don’t fully understand their benefits, how to access them or how the health system works. More education should be a key component of the solution. 

Making Real Connections With Providers

The health care industry also can’t dismiss the fact that although technology can be helpful and provide convenience for millennials, they still want to build relationships with their doctors. Like generations before them, millennials want to work with doctors and counselors who understand them and are invested in them. Is there a way to facilitate these kinds of connections? Can health care professionals create a tool or program that matches employees with providers based on shared attributes like gender identity, age, temperament and so on?
 
The more the health care industry listens and learns, the more ideas and solutions professionals can bring to the workplace and the health care system. After all, two-thirds of millennials in the survey said they are looking for new ways to live a healthier life. Data and insights will help them get there.

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