As the US population ages, more and more individuals are going to be relying on healthcare services, placing strain on the system as a whole. While this is a concern for everyone – as more holistic burden means diluted resources to go around – there is a particular population who may be disproportionately disadvantaged: younger patients like Millennials and Gen Zs.
The healthcare system in the US is naturally positioned to cater for older patients. The basic economic laws of supply and demand dictate how the healthcare market is ultimately shaped, and the reality is that there are far more older patients than younger patients. Excluding babies under one year old, here is a breakdown of hospital stays by age in 2016:
Patient age, years
(% of Total)
- 1-17 (3.6%)
- 18-44 (24.4%)
- 45-64 (24.6%)
- 65-84 (27.7%)
- 85+ (7.8%)
The clear majority of patients are over 45 years old, which sets up inherent biases that shape how healthcare is inevitably better suited to older populations.
Examining the situation through a loyalty lens, healthcare practices are a brand, and patients are its customers. For example, findings from our recently released Maritz | Wise Marketer Loyalty Landscape Study show that patients evaluate their hospital experiences as they would any other consumer interaction:
Top Influencers of Hospital Choice
(Patients with a stay in the last two years)
- Approved by insurance provider (30%)
- Quality of the experience (24%)
- Convenience of the location (21%)
Barry Kirk, VP of Loyalty Strategy for Maritz Motivation, says this shouldn’t be a surprise:
“Increasing healthcare costs that are being borne more and more by patients has driven the need for all of us to be more involved in our choice of doctors, hospitals, and even medication. So its logical that we are now viewing those healthcare choices through a consumer lens, making those decisions using the same criteria we would for a retailer, a bank, or a hotel stay.”
As patients become consumers who are increasingly involved in choosing their healthcare providers, the influence of age becomes an important consideration. No brand today would be surprised to hear that they were losing market share amongst Millennials or Gen Zs if the focus of their marketing initiatives was directed towards Baby Boomers. This reality couldn’t be more clear in the healthcare industry: younger demographics are expressly dissatisfied with many aspects of their medical care. A recent report by Accenture yielded some enlightening facts about the current healthcare landscape amongst these patients:
- Both Millennials and Gen Zs are much less likely to have a regular primary-care physician compared to Baby Boomers and Gen Xs
- Even though younger and older patients are equally adamant that provider-patient transparency is a critical factor in their overall satisfaction, younger consumers are over-indexing in dissatisfaction scores and are more willing to resort to non-traditional services.
- Gen Zs and Millennials are up to 28 percentage points more dissatisfied with key aspects of healthcare delivery, such as convenience of location and effectiveness of the treatment, than older demographics like Boomers.
- The younger the demographic, the harder they are hit hardest by systematic inefficiencies: 24% of Gen Zs said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with providers’ responsiveness to follow-up questions outside the appointment, via phone or email, compared with 15% of millennials, 12% of Gen Xers and 11% of baby boomers.
The pertinent response from healthcare practitioners needs to be strategically enacted loyalty-centric solutions that add value for younger demographics without sacrificing the quality of care for older demographics. Fortunately, there is a salient realm of loyalty which can be positioned as an overarching boon for all populations: enhanced digital capabilities, such as smartphone technology, apps, and the Internet of Things (IoT) could solve many of the problems that the healthcare landscape is currently facing.
Enhanced Digital Capabilities
Digital is the first frontier for critical engagement touchpoints with many brands, and its function within the healthcare sector should be no different. The advantages of an omni-channel path-to-engagement with health practices, offering intuitive interactions on devices like smartphones, go far beyond escalating patient satisfaction. Digital engineering has the ability to bolster practitioner efficiency and lower costs. In an environment where an over-reliance on antiquated legacy technologies such as fax machines, pagers, and EMR systems (in fact, nearly 80% of hospitals still use pagers, a technology that has remained relatively unchanged for the past 30 years), the costs are quickly adding up…to the tune of $250 billion every year.
From a front-end perspective, better digital integration will yield improved patient experiences, and motivate better patient compliance as they navigate the often-daunting realm of in-person care. And for younger patients, accessing a healthcare environment which reflects their natural fluency in digital technologies will translate into better all-around satisfaction:
- Sitting inside waiting rooms could be made a thing of the past, with real-time text updates notifying on wait and ready statuses.
- Filling & refilling prescriptions could be streamlined through smartphone apps, empowering fastidious adherence to drug schedules and allowing for better communication between patients and providers.
- Tapping into the IoT, healthcare providers could facilitate remote services and gain a more accurate picture into the overall health and wellness of patients by harvesting data such as pulse rate, blood pressure, and physical activity levels.
These aren’t simply strategic assumptions; the research supports patient demand for these tactics. According to Accenture’s study, younger patients stated that they were much more likely to choose providers with enhanced digital capabilities.
Any commercial brand worth its salt will have deeply entrenched digital best practices that mirror the customers’ fundamental behaviors, and it’s time healthcare practitioners followed suit.