A new consumer group is driving the future of health care, Jean Hippert said at The Alliance Learning Circle on The Changing Health Care Consumer on July 16 at Monona Terrace in Madison.
Hippert is senior vice president, strategy and healthcare, for PNC Healthcare, which is part of PNC Bank. Hippert noted that on the banking side, PNC has already seen the impact of consumers’ preference for digital self-service and moved to a more customer-centric model.
PNC Healthcare sponsored a nationwide survey of 50,000 consumers about their health care preferences and practices, which built on earlier interviews and focus groups. The results were released in
March 2015 and provided the background for Hippert’s presentation.
Millenials Seeking to Leverage Digital Skills while Receiving Care
Hippert said consumers in the Millennial Generation, ages 21-32, are driving health care trends. These “digital natives” expect health care to be as savvy in meeting the needs of consumers as the
self-service options offered by leading companies online.
Millennials are often joined in these attitudes by Generation X, ages 33 to 49. A growing number of Boomers, ages 50 to 71, and Seniors, age 72 and older, are also using digital tools and demanding more from health care.
“Patients are seeking to leverage the skills and experience they have with all the other sectors of the economy as they deal with health care,” Hippert said.
Hippert said the influence of the Millennials goes beyond their own age group.  That’s because once the Millennials’ parents and grandparents see what digital tools can do for Millennials,
they want the tools for themselves.
Control Shifting to Internet-savvy Patients
In the past, Hippert said the health care system was able to dictate the flow of patient information and services. Today, widespread access to the Internet through smartphones, computers and other devices lets people research health issues online and seek out additional options for care.
“It’s safe to say the locus of control is shifting more from the provider to the patient,” Hippert observed.
Hippert shared remarks from one focus group participant who watched her parents and grandparents obtain care from the traditional health care system. She saw them cope with waiting rooms, lengthy delays and impersonal service. The young woman couldn’t imagine why they put up with it and declared that she would not.
Like that focus group participant, millennials typically aim to avoid traditional health care settings like doctors’ offices and hospitals.
Hippert told the story of her 28-year-old daughter’s unwillingness to make an appointment to see a doctor at a traditional clinic, instead opting to use a retail clinic in a Target store. Her daughter’s friend declares that her primary care provider is WebMD.
“Really, the message here is people are taking more responsibility for how they want care,” Hippert said.
Millenials Dissatisfied with Service and Price in Current System
Hippert noted millenials are willing to change their behavior to get better service or a better price. Millennials’ responses to the PNC survey included:
- 54 percent will delay health care due to its cost, compared to 18 percent of seniors.
- 46 percent are willing to switch providers for price reasons.
- 43 percent are willing to go out-of-network for care.
- 56 percent are willing to wait a few days when seeking care for a child.
Service and price are Millennials’ “low points” in dealing with the existing health care system.
They are dissatisfied by:
- Waiting for care.
- Communication about patient costs, including their inability to get price estimates before obtaining care.
- Actual out-of-pocket costs.
- How they are billed, including getting bills from multiple caregivers instead of one combined bill.
All Age Groups Seeking Cost Information for Health Care
Hippert said consumers in multiple age groups perceive health care as too expensive. They also think traditional health care providers make it too difficult to find out what care will cost in advance, if they can provide the information at all.
Consumers overwhelmingly want upfront estimates of the cost of health care, which online tools can help deliver. Hippert said these estimates do not have to be perfect, but they must reflect a “best effort” to fairly quote cost. Consumers also want a credible source of information on health care quality and service.
Retail clinics are the exception because they clearly state costs up front. PNC’s survey found that 38 percent of Millennials had used a retail clinic within the last year, followed by 26 percent of Gen X.
Eye contact during health care treatment was also important. Consumers complained that caregivers typing into electronic medical records systems sometimes failed to make eye contact. But they were willing to use telemedicine as long as they could make eye contact with the caregiver.
Five Things Employers Should Do
Hippert recommended that employers:
- Provide online information about benefits and care
- Expand access to online benefit “portals”
- Offer information about the accuracy of health costs and the quality of care.
- Help consumers understand their out-of-pocket obligations under the benefits plan.
- Give consumers self-service tools so they can take control of cost, quality and other issues.
Employers should be ready to adapt as the marketplace responds to millennials’ demands for a consumer-centric health care model.
“Millennials are going to take the wheel and shape the future of health care,” Hippert predicted.
Dernovsek has more than 25 years' experience in communications, public relations and marketing. From 1992 until joining The Alliance, Dernovsek owned her own freelance marketing and writing business to provide marketing consulting and writing for health-care related entities and credit union organizations. Earlier, she was the director of public relations for Rockford Memorial Hospital and city editor for the Beloit Daily News.
Dernovsek graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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