Millennial Health in the Digital Age
To be a millennial is to be connected to the rest of the world through a vast digital web. By virtue of the internet and social media, the most mundane experience can become shareable and any task can be performed with a click of a button. Of course, health is no exception. Social fitness apps such as Apple Health, Fitbit, Nike Plus and Spotify Running can be found on phones everywhere. “Fitspo” (a portmanteau of ‘fitness’ and ‘inspiration’) posts, before and after pictures and health blogs populate Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds. And through medical websites and apps from WebMD to Doctor on Demand, individuals can manage their health right from their phones. The rise of digital health has the potential to alter the health sector as the preferences of millennials – for convenience, efficiency and technological sophistication – shape the health landscape.
Millennials are increasingly eschewing traditional healthcare options, such as a visit to a doctor’s office, in favor of digitizing their treatment. According to a survey by ZocDoc, an online medical scheduling platform, half of millennials visit a doctor less than once per year. Incredibly, a Salesforce survey found that 40 percent of millennials say that they would not recognize their doctor if they saw them on the street. Instead, young adults are increasingly swapping out physicians for smartphones. According to the CDC, 90% of millennials ages 18 to 24 would trust medical information shared by individuals on their social media networks. It’s not uncommon for a patient to tweet out a query about a health condition or google a set of symptoms, placing their trust in virtual strangers rather than their physician. And rather than expend the time and effort to make an appointment at a doctor’s office, with apps such as Doctor on Demand and LiveHealth, patients can video chat or message with a doctor right from their smartphones. For many millennials, traditional healthcare options are simply not efficient enough.
“40 percent of millennials say that they would not recognize their doctor if they saw them on the street*”
*2015 salesforce.com study
Why are millennials choosing social media and digital healthcare over traditional health options? At first glance, this choice seems counter-intuitive. A user’s social media followers are likely less qualified than a medical doctor, and therefore less capable of providing accurate medical advice. And online diagnosis services, though more reliable than social media, still often miss the mark. By inputting the symptoms of a common cold, as defined by the CDC, into the WebMD Symptom Checker, the model gives a potential diagnosis of 99 ailments, including cystic fibrosis, radon exposure and cocaine withdrawals. However, an in-person doctor visit doesn’t provide the convenience factor that many millennials are used to. According to Dr. Ron Rowes, the chief medical officer of Prominence Health Plan, “[millennials] are a group that uses services such as Amazon and the Internet who aren’t really used to person-to-person service per se. They’re used to reaching out when they need something, getting instant gratification, [and] moving on.”
Millennials’ preference for efficient, technologically advanced healthcare options presents a crossroads for traditional healthcare providers, who must innovate to keep up with their patients or risk losing out on millennials to more modern health systems. It’s important that health industry members leverage digital networks to build increased connections with their patients, instead of failing to recognize the potency of social media. Firstly, companies must meet millennials where they are, and establish an active social presence. Twitter accounts are important, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Companies should branch out to Instagram, Periscope, Slideshare, Reddit and more. A diverse platform of social media engagement is a good way to engage with a wide audience, especially millennials, who are active on many social networks at once. Additionally, one of the most important ways for companies to capitalize on the power of social media is to recognize that social media is a two-way street. Not only can health companies share information with their customers and patients, but social media users can provide companies with their feedback and opinions. According to Lloyd Price, the chief operating officer of Zesty, a UK-based healthcare scheduling platform, “The healthcare industry can only thrive if the relationship between patient/consumer and provider is nurtured. By receiving direct communication from the people who use their services everyday in the form of criticism, comments and suggestions, the healthcare industry can better understand what areas require improvement.”
Social media provides a direct line from a company to millennial consumers, and when companies can understand and leverage that, it becomes a win-win for both the company and the patient. In an increasingly connected world, strengthening the link between the health sector and its millennial patients makes all parties stronger and healthier.
Isabella Fuentes is a student at Northeastern University and a Public Relations Co-op at JPA Health Communications