In just 42 months, Millennials will make up 75 per cent of the workforce, according to U.S. Department of Commerce statistics. As consumers and patients, they are already triggering changes, reforms, and innovation in healthcare. It is timely for clinical lab administrators and pathologists to understand how and why Millennials expect to experience healthcare services in a very different way than Generation X and Baby Boomers. Here’s a look at key developments.
Consumers are becoming a powerful force of change as the healthcare system in the United States and other nations continues to transform. This has profound implications for those medical laboratories that want to stay at the cutting edge of clinical care with their diagnostic testing services.
As consumers radically alter the way they access medical services, medical laboratories will need to reconfigure key aspects of their services to properly serve the “new healthcare consumer” and meet the very different expectations this younger generation has for service, for quality, and for price.
For example, as more patients grow comfortable using telehealth to do virtual office visits with their physicians, how will clinical labs get access to that patient to collect the samples needed to perform the lab tests ordered by that physician as a result of the virtual office examination?
Today, specifically in the United States, the medical laboratory profession is oriented around the primary specimen collection model of:
a) having phlebotomists in physician offices, and,
b) maintaining a network of patient service centres, typically located in physician office buildings.
Will this existing infrastructure of specimen collection sites be viable if a greater number of patients stop traveling to their doctors’ offices and instead see their caregiver using a telehealth service? Labs should ask this question in their strategic planning and develop new approaches to collecting specimens from those patients using telehealth services to consult with their physicians.
Millennials—Generation Y (born between 1981 and 1996)—are the front wave in this change in the way healthcare is accessed and delivered. They are comfortable accessing their physicians via telemedicine and virtual office visits, especially if it saves time.
Similarly, the Millennials want to use their smartphones and digital devices to have immediate access to their health records. A high proportion of Millennials also track their own health metrics with a fast-growing product category known as “wearable fitness technology.” These devices range from FitBits and Nike Fuelbands to Apple watches.
The consumer revolution in healthcare is not limited only to Millennials. Growing numbers of Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers are becoming comfortable seeing their physicians virtually, having 24/7 digital access to their health records, and using wearable devices to monitor their diabetes, deliver insulin, and track the function of their heart, among other uses.
Insurers support telehealth
Private health insurers are jumping on the virtual physician visit trend. Not only do telehealth services meet the wants of Millennials for quick access to their doctors, but telehealth sessions are a way for payers to reduce healthcare costs without compromising the quality of care. Just this year in the United States, Oscar Health, UnitedHealthcare, and Kaiser Permanente launched or expanded virtual-first care plans.
Humana started similar health plans in the Southeast U.S. two years ago that require the patient to start a care encounter with a virtual physician visit in exchange for very low monthly premiums. Last year, Humana invested US$100 million in telehealth company Heal specifically to help the insurer expand into new markets.
This trend of expanded acceptance and use of telehealth and virtual office visits was intensified by the outbreak of COVID-19 in the winter of 2020. From the start of the pandemic, even senior citizens proved willing to see their doctors virtually.
The American Medical Association published a report quoting Jared Augenstein, a Director at Manatt Health. He said that “between mid-March and mid-October of last year, nearly 25 million Medicare beneficiaries received services via telehealth, while Medicaid and CHIP beneficiaries received nearly 35 million services via telehealth last year.”
Convenience as a driver
Another important driver of change in healthcare shared by all consumers—regardless of their generation—is the desire for convenience. Today’s healthcare consumer wants a smooth, fast, and easy experience with any retailer or service provider.
That is why patients are increasingly frustrated with how they are forced to interact with hospitals, doctors’ offices, clinical laboratories, and other providers. It is still common for a patient with an appointment for a health service to walk into the facility and be handed a clipboard with a form to fill out with pen or pencil. Patients must sit in the lobby and fill out forms before they can access their doctor or have a procedure performed.
This example shows why patients—as consumers—are frustrated with the healthcare system. They understand that, if they are buying from Amazon, eBay, or any number of other web retailers, they may be just two clicks away from completing a purchase. That is not true for healthcare.
Medical laboratories emulating Starbucks?
Similarly, these patients know they can walk into a Starbucks, give the barista the order, and then hold their smartphone up to the reader to complete the transaction wirelessly and instantly. Furthermore, digitally connected consumers can use the Starbucks app on their smartphone to order and pay before they even entered the store! This allows them to walk through the door and find their order ready and waiting to be picked up.
Imagine how different the experience of your lab’s patients would be if your team streamlined and automated as much of the specimen collection process as possible. Your lab would create a loyalty bond with each patient that would be difficult for competing laboratories to break. It could be the ultimate competitive advantage.
Changes in healthcare and other segments of business attributed to the different interests and needs of Millennials can be better understood when compared to earlier generations.
For example, the “Greatest Generation” (those Americans who fought World War II and parented the Baby Boomer generation) were typically recognised to be compliant patients. They usually accepted their doctor’s diagnoses and recommendations with few questions.
This is generally not true of Baby Boomers. They are the generation of patients who do deep-dive research into their health conditions. They then arrive for their appointment carrying a stack of published clinical studies and press the doctor to absorb this information and incorporate it into their treatment plans.
Then came Generation X
Generation X continued the research trait of the Boomers, but also began adapting to new models of primary care. The rapid growth and popularity of urgent care centres that opened early in the morning and stayed open late and on the weekends in the United States could be considered a response to Gen X patients who want 24/7 access to healthcare whenever they have earaches, sore throats, and sniffles. Urgent care centres provided consumers with a friendlier place with faster treatment for many minor conditions, compared to emergency departments and A&E departments found at local hospitals.
So much of healthcare and medicine is changing because of Millennials—who grew up with computers, mobile communication devices, and the Internet. Millennials tend be more demanding consumers of healthcare.
Thus, medical laboratory leaders would be well-served to understand Millennial lifestyle preferences and meet those expectations.
Identifying other forces shaping healthcare
Fortunately for the medical laboratory profession, the pace of healthcare’s transformation will allow adequate time for labs to identify and understand key trends, then develop appropriate strategies in response to those changes.
Healthcare’s transformation in the U.S. includes discrete elements. These are elements that The Dark Report tracks regularly. They include:
• New emphasis on proactive care, compared to the reactive care of past decades.
• Continued efforts to shift care from inpatient to outpatient settings because hospitals are the most expensive sites for medical care.
• Tighter integration of both clinical services and the organizations that provide those services.
• Digital health records that are truly interoperable, allowing data to move freely across all classes of providers.
• Emphasis on reducing variation in care provided by different doctors so that the treatment delivered to every patient is consistent with the care protocols for their health conditions.
• Telehealth/Virtual physician visits.
• Value-based payment to providers.
• Consumer-driven change.
• Primary care’s move toward clinics based in retail pharmacies and in neighbourhood shopping centres.
• For labs, what The Dark Report describes as distributed testing, enabled by a coming generation of small, miniaturised instruments that deliver accurate results inexpensively at the point of care and in near-patient settings.
Four ways that consumers are encouraging change and transformation in healthcare
If medical laboratories groups want to continue to meet and exceed the expectations of consumers and their patients, they need to recognise how consumers are changing many aspects of healthcare. Below are several primary trends in consumerism as they relate to how consumers want to be served by their healthcare providers, including hospitals, physician offices, and laboratories.
Convenience: Consumers want fast access to personal services. In healthcare, think of the growth of medical clinics in retail stores, the big shift to put laboratory patient service centres in retail pharmacies and grocery stores.
Examples: Walmart’s healthcare supercentres, branded as “Walmart Care Clinic.” CVS Pharmacies’ “Health Hubs” and “Minute Clinics.”
In the United States and other nations around the world, healthcare is being reinvented so as to meet the needs of the Millennial Generation and other consumers who want faster access to care, personalized service, and low prices. WalMart, known for its low-price leadership, is now building what can be described as “healthcare service hubs” that are located near where consumers live. Shown above is one of the early clinics Walmart opened in Georgia. Not only does this clinical provide primary care, but it offers lab tests, x-ray/imaging, optometry, dental, hearing, and mental health counseling. (Photo copyright WalMart.)
Personalisation: Consumers turning to the web for information before seeing their physicians and to find providers; they want their doctors and care providers to know them and their unique needs.
Examples: Amazon Prime Members recognised at log-in and have just two clicks to purchase. Starbucks mobile app handles the order and payment before customer gets to the store.
Technology: Consumers want to track their own exercise and health factors in real time. Think consumers using wearable monitors for exercise, monitoring blood glucose levels (for diabetics), using remote monitoring devices prescribed by their physician; digital access to health information that alerts them digitally to test results, etc.
Examples: Fitbits, Apple Watches, Abbott Laboratories’ FreeStyle Libre device, cardiac rhythm remote monitoring devices.
Transparency: Consumers, particularly those with high-deductible health plans, want to know the price of service before choosing a provider.
Examples: Growth of benefit investigation (BI) for expensive genetic tests, prices posted publicly at Walmart’s healthcare supercentres, CMS Medicare website with provider prices, Castlight Health’s website with provider prices.
Robert L. Michel
The article was published in Arab Health Daily Dose Day 1. Read all the issues here.
Copyright 2021, The Dark Report. Reprinted by Permission.