Consumerization of Healthcare: The Key to Engaging Millennials

consumerization of healthcare

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hen spring break rolls around, I can always count on my mom to share travel tips and helpful reminders prior to my trip. When she asks if I checked in for my flight, I simply turn on my phone and click the United Airlines app, enter my confirmation code, and a check of approval flashes green. I view the seating chart, select one of the remaining window seats, and I’m ready for departure the next morning.

Millennials and the Digital Age

As a twenty-year-old millennial, I’ve lived my entire life in the digital age. I grew up with wifi, Facebook, and smartphones; the connected world has always been at my fingertips. I can scan, crop, and send PDF documents with my iPhone, make domestic and international payments with the click of a button, and even share said transactions with my friends on social media. I receive personalized news updates based on my reading preferences and view carefully curated video content. In my world, technology is advancing at a blinding speed. Innovations are made every day… and just as quickly as they materialize, improved solutions take their place. Industries like retail, travel, financial services, and hospitality have adapted to the digital age and reaped profound benefits – and healthcare is soon to follow.

My generation does not accept the age-old mindset of “accept what you get healthcare”; we expect personalized services focused on us, the consumers – in short, consumerization. Today, digital technologies can enable real-time health updates, acquire and analyze medical data, and streamline the process of administering healthcare. Instead of sitting in awkward silence in a waiting room for hours, checkups can be as casual and flexible as chats with my mom. Scheduling a doctor’s appointment can be as simple as choosing an open seat on my flight app. Patients’ personal files should not be yellowing in a filing cabinet but being updated constantly with new, real-time data. Consumerization is inevitable and its effects on the healthcare industry will be dramatic and highly profitable for large companies and smaller startups, while directly benefiting the individual patient.

Why Millennials Matter to Healthcare Companies

The largest generation in history (larger even than baby boomers) is moving into its prime spending years. Millennials will reshape the economy due to their unique experiences growing up in the digital age; this digital nativity strongly influences their decisions as primary consumers. As millennials become a major target market, large healthcare companies need to adapt to changing consumer perceptions and expectations. With health information and resources at their literal fingertips, millennials have adopted more active lifestyles than previous generations, choosing to eat smarter and smoke less. They are downloading health-tracking apps at astonishing rates and searching meticulously to find the best healthcare plans. Moreover, when it comes to their health, millennials have proven uncompromising as consumers and are willing to spend money for quality products that fit their needs. The U.S. Census Bureau of Labor predicts the upward trend of millennials’ purchasing private healthcare insurance to continue its steady increase.

Exhibit: Private health insurance exchange enrollment to reach 40 million by 2018 Exhibit- Private health insurance exchange enrollment to reach 40 million by 2018

In the past, the baby boomer generation accepted healthcare plans provided by their employers: “what you get is what you get.” My generation sees promise in (and expects) a more seamless experience including improved appointment scheduling services, electronic medical record tools, remote consultations, use of big data to help improve diagnoses, and organizational services for treatments plans. More importantly, millennial consumers are willing to pay a premium for value-add services. Digital startups have begun to focus on addressing these pressing issues. For example, the ZocDoc app allows its users to “Find a nearby doctor or dentist and book an appointment instantly.” Practice Fusion offers a cloud-based electronic health record platform for doctors and patients, and 23andMe provides services and analysis that gives the consumer a “genetic snapshot” of his or her health. Large healthcare companies should seek out, acquire, and collaborate with these startups to get an edge on the competition and apply consumerization to their advantage.

The Opportunity: Consumerization of Healthcare

Consumerization of healthcare presents unique opportunities to carve a niche in the industry. Startup CEOs and entrepreneurs inherently understand what types of products their generation demands and how healthcare should operate in this digital age. For instance, Oscar Health has disrupted the insurance space with its highly personalized model, setting itself apart from traditional players by offering access to thousands of doctors, management apps, and other special perks. While many consumers groan collectively when dealing with their health insurance company, Oscar’s customers rave about the company’s humble approach to selling “smart, simple health insurance.” As a smaller enterprise, Oscar saw an opportunity to improve the personal relationship between health insurance companies and their customers, and it has found success by addressing that issue and mastering an exceptional, unique solution. (For further review of Oscar Health, see here)

Other companies are seeing the value in a personalized approach to healthcare. Litesprite, a Seattle-based startup has gained acclaim for creating online games aimed at treating stress, anxiety, and depression in adults. Players help “Socks the Fox” overcome certain obstacles while honing coping mechanisms they can apply to real-life situations. Litesprite’s personal model is a breath of fresh air, a simple, practical way for workers to manage their stress levels. As a small enterprise, Litesprite has partnered and collaborates with the Madigan Army Medical Center to further its research. Large enterprises like Madigan offer invaluable research opportunities for small IT startups to test and improve their products, and at the same time, these partnerships provide larger enterprises lean ways to add exciting improvements to their models.

Because there are so many touch-points and stakeholders in the healthcare consumer experience – patients, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, payers, etc. – there are significant opportunities for digital health startups and entrepreneurs to make an impact. Each and every touch-point can be approached with consumerization. More and more digital health startups will continue to develop creative solutions, and ultimately, patients will find the quality of their healthcare improving.

Consumerization in healthcare urges the patient to take control of his or her own health and empowers customers to find individualized plans, treatments, and providers that fit his or her needs – it is the foundation behind the notion of ‘patient power.’ Increasingly people are learning and educating themselves about their health. In the past, people did whatever they were told and followed “doctor’s orders” without second-thought, but now, patients are actively curious and knowledgeable about their health. More than ever, patients are opening browsers to search actively for symptoms and potential remedies (i.e. Google MD). This type of empowerment to make our own decisions about our health, instead of passively accepting a general healthcare plan, can be extremely beneficial.

Striking the Right Balance

There exists a fine line, however, as information overload can have negative effects. Misinterpretation of online medical information may leave patients confused; asking questions like, “Does my restlessness mean I have depression?” “Does my achiness and joint pain mean I have zika virus?” There are countless forums and research studies online, and for the most part, the general public lacks the proper background to understand real medical research. Meeting with more informed and opinionated patients will be a different experience for doctors, as more of their time may be side-tracked to answering potentially far-fetched questions from curious patients. While the benefits to consumerization of healthcare are noteworthy, the advancement doesn’t come without growing pains, especially for providers.

Despite these growing pains, consumerization will continue to positively redefine the healthcare industry. Startups can help drive consumerization by creating solutions that are relevant and powerful to the individual. Meanwhile, large companies need to restructure their business models and incorporate innovative new ideas, technology and solutions to align themselves with the progressive mentality of a rising millennial population. In this changing new world of healthcare, those that don’t adapt will fall far behind those that do.
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