Millennials have been bringing new ideas and ways of doing things to many workplaces for at least a decade now.
But the impact of this generation — born between 1982 and 2000 — is just now being felt in healthcare as younger physicians finish their medical training in their early to mid 30s, and as millennials leave their parents’ health insurance.
Of course, not every millennial physician or patient is the same. And there’s a lot of overlap between generations.
But some people see trends emerging as this tech-savvy generation shapes the healthcare world.
Work-life balance for doctors
Burnout has long been a problem among doctors. But for many millennial physicians, finding a good balance between work and their personal lives is just as important as job satisfaction.
“Decreasing the number of hours in the hospital or in the clinic in order to do things outside of work that are enjoyable — extracurricular activities, hobbies, those sorts of things — is increasingly important to my generation of physicians,” Dr. Ryan Kruse, a millennial physical medicine and rehabilitation resident physician at the Mayo Clinic, told Healthline.
Kurt Mosley, vice president of strategic alliances at Merritt Hawkins health consultants, has seen this desire for more reasonable work hours grow in recent years.
“Back when I started, the question doctors always had when they were looking at relocating, it was like real estate — it was location, location, location,” Mosley told Healthline. “Now with millennials, their question is lifestyle, lifestyle, lifestyle.”
This may translate to millennials working part-time right out of their training.
“We have a lot of doctors that do practice sharing — two doctors have one practice,” said Mosley.
In this type of practice, each doctor may only work two-and-a-half days each week. This comes with a lower salary, but for some, this is a reasonable trade-off.
Other millennial physicians seeking work-life balance may join nontraditional practices like PlushCare, an online urgent care provider that offers both patients and doctors a new approach to healthcare.
This telemedicine-only company allows people to talk to doctors from the comfort of their own homes or workplaces.
Doctors also benefit from this model.
“Doctors have never been able to work from home before in any capacity. So the ability to have a flexible schedule and see patients from their home office is something that really appeals to them,” millennial physician Dr. James Wantuck, co-founder and chief medical officer of PlushCare, told Healthline.
In spite of the millennial-friendly approach, it appeals to older people. The average age of the people who use the company’s services is 39. And its doctors range in age from 28 to over 65.
Savvy with technology
Although some studies have looked at the quality of care provided by doctors of different ages, Wantuck only sees “slight generational differences” in how his colleagues practice medicine.
But he and others have noticed a shift in recent years away from the doctor-as-parent attitude, in which a physician makes a diagnosis, comes up with a treatment plan, and the patient is expected to follow through, no questions asked.
In contrast, doctors today may present patients with several potential treatment plans.
“The decision regarding which treatment option to pursue is a joint decision made between physician and patient,” said Kruse.
This change may be driven more by medical education than the nature of millennials themselves, but this kind of “cooperative relationship with patients” is the norm for this generation of doctors.
Technology is another factor that is shaping healthcare. Not just in how doctors diagnose and treat patients, but also in how they communicate with patients and manage their medical records.
Having grown up with computers, cell phones, and the internet, many millennial physicians have an advantage over earlier generations of doctors.
“Among younger physicians that I have been around, these new technologies are learned rather quickly,” said Kruse, “and I would say it’s pretty ubiquitous that younger physicians are well-versed in technology.”
This is evident when it comes to how doctors of different generations approach electronic health records.
Mosley mentioned an older doctor who had recruited a millennial. The younger doctor came into the practice and announced he was going to make the whole office paperless.
The older doctor looked his new colleague “right in the eye” and said, “You’re a great doctor, I really admire your skills, but this office is going to be paperless when the restroom is paperless.”
In spite of that, Mosley said these two doctors “seem to be getting along.”
Millennial patients also appreciate when doctors go paperless.
Adam Powell, a millennial patient and president of the healthcare consulting firm Payer+Provider Syndicate, finds that electronic medical records can add to the “value of patient visits” — providing him with access to lab results and a long-term record of his health, and heading off potential problems early.
“My physician recently alerted me that my vaccines were about to become out-of-date,” he said.
Although millennial physicians may push for more technology in the clinic, when it comes to the practice of medicine, the relationship between new doctors and their older peers remains solid.
“It seems like the traditionalists — which is our oldest doctors, those over 65 — are really pairing up with young millennials,” said Mosley.
There are, of course, drawbacks to embracing technology too much, whether it’s driven by millennials or the medical profession overall.
A 2013 study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, showed that medical interns spent only 12 percent of their time on direct patient care, compared with 40 percent working on the computer.
Even for many millennial patients, technology in medicine just makes sense. But it’s also becoming more of a cross-generational phenomenon.
“As millennials, we’re much more comfortable with text-based communication or video chat or email,” said Wantuck. “But I think older people are moving towards those methods of communication, as well.”
Younger patients especially may not always see the need for face-to-face contact with their doctor.
“I would prefer to have some medical professional answer simple questions by direct message,” said millennial Maeghan Nicholson, director of marketing for the healthcare technology company Wellbe, Inc. “For instance, I wrote in through my patient portal this week to ask them what my blood type was.”
Doctors’ offices that shun technology risk losing millennials’ business.
“I can research, plan, and book a 10-day trip to Hawaii from my couch without ever talking to a single person,” said Nicholson.
“So why do I have to spend at least two hours out of my day waiting on hold to schedule an appointment, driving to the doctor, sitting in a waiting room, and wasting my time to get a prescription for what I already know is a simple diagnosis for one of my kids — like pinkeye — when this transaction could be easily done online by submitting a picture?”
Not every millennial, though, is convinced.
“I would like the doctor to have electronic medical records, but it is not a deal breaker for me,” Christina Noce, a millennial from West Palm Beach, Fla., told Healthline.
But she added, “My doctor does not offer FaceTime options and I wish he did. There is no reason my doctor needs to see me every few months to give me the same thyroid dosage I have been on for years.”
When it comes to visiting the doctor, many millennials crave the same kind of on-demand service that they get with music, movies, and food delivery.
“Millennials want it all and they want it right now,” said Mosley. “They want to be fixed and on their way.”
This may mean gravitating to healthcare companies that offer urgent care in a new way, like PlushCare’s telemedicine or ZocDoc’s online booking for in-person appointments.
“When urgent access is needed and my regular healthcare providers are not available, I have ventured onto ZocDoc to find short-term assistance,” said Powell.
Noce said that she would even be willing to pay more for a doctor visit if she “needed immediate attention,” but she “would rather wait and go to a doctor that costs less.”
Desire for quicker access to healthcare is not unique to millennials, but this group may be pushing medicine in new directions.
“I don’t think anyone ever enjoys sitting in a doctor’s office for an hour waiting for their appointment to start,” said Wantuck. “But millennials may be more willing to do something about it, and more willing to try something new.”
Millennials are also known for resisting the government’s attempts to convince them to sign up for health insurance through Obamacare.
They may take an on-demand approach to insurance, as well.
“A lot of [millennials] don’t have insurance,” said Mosley. “And if something serious happens, then they get insurance.”
Even when healthy millennials sign up for insurance, they may opt for a high-deductible plan in order to reduce their monthly premiums. But this means their insurance may not cover many medical expenses until they have a major — and expensive — health problem.
Lack of insurance — or a comprehensive plan — can make millennials more cost-conscious about doctor’s visits and medical procedures.
“I wish it was easier to get a straight answer about how much the final bill will be so I can prepare,” said Noce. “This never happens. I constantly get the runaround.”
As patients crave more up front transparency — like you have when you shop online for everything else — companies like PlushCare are responding.
“You put your insurance information in and you know instantaneously what the cost of the consultation’s going to be,” said Wantuck. “You’re not going to get a bill three months down the road.”
Although millennial doctors and patients may be different from previous generations in some ways, Mosley emphasized that overall it’s “not good or bad.”
This is, however, a unique time for medicine.
“We’ve never had four different established age groups in healthcare,” said Mosley. “You have millennials. You have Gen X. You have baby boomers. You have traditionalists. All working together.”