By Howard Jacobson
Millennials do healthcare differently than preceding generations. They have different values, different desires and different needs. The industry must change in order to meet their needs. Let’s look at some facts about this ascendant generation, so we can tailor our offerings to serve them well.
Millennials value convenience over relationships with healthcare providers.
Startlingly, only 50 percent of millennials have a primary care provider. Instead, they look for on-demand clinics with convenient hours, and online healthcare visits that provide just-in-time services. And they demand value for money spent.
Traditional healthcare plans, in which participants choose or are assigned to a PCP, don’t interest millennials. They prefer and are drawn to organizations that provide telemedicine visits and walk-in clinics that adhere to effective, evidence-based protocols.
Millennials are rejecting the lack of work/life balance that characterizes Generation X.
They want to work not simply to survive or accumulate wealth, but to afford themselves a meaningful life. Surveys show that millennials would trade higher salaries for an appealing work culture.
Companies that demonstrate care for their employees as people, and not just human capital, win by attracting, retaining and motivating millennials to do their best. Rather than working overtime for more pay, millennials will dig deep for organizations to which they feel affinity, gratitude and loyalty. Investing in innovative healthcare solutions that speak to millennials is one way for companies to signal their commitment to a culture of care and respect.
Also, encouraging and enabling employees to devote time and energy to their health and fitness produces a more engaged workforce. And there has never been a generation more in need of lifestyle medicine than this one.
Millennials Desperately Need Wellness
As millennials replace their “singles” lifestyles with the responsibilities of family life, they report more chronic loneliness than previous generations. Whether it’s the cocooning caused by erosions of traditional social networks, or screen addiction, or the disappearing middle class, the millennial generation is experiencing stress, alienation and burnout at rates not experienced before.
This plays out not just in surveys of mood, but in their poor health as well. The Health Foundation reports that once millennials reach middle age, their health status is worse than their age-matched parents. The convenience that they adore comes with a price in this society: ready-to-eat foods that compromise health combine with 24/7 entertainment from screens large and small to create an overfed, undernourished, sedentary, stressed-out population.
Organizations that employ millennials urgently need to address this ticking time bomb of chronic disease. Waiting until employees develop clinical diagnoses of type 2 diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, or cancer, and then treating those conditions with drugs and procedures, is a recipe for fiscal disaster and a catastrophic waste of human resources.
Traditional Won’t Work for Millennials
Traditional workplace wellness programs aren’t the solution for millennials, though. Analyses show that they don’t work in lowering healthcare costs; proponents are reduced to arguing that ROI doesn’t matter, that they’re just the right thing to do. But the right thing to do should also be effective, in addition to well-intentioned.
Instead, we need a lifestyle medicine approach to sick care. We need to use the tools of wellness – healthy diet, vigorous physical activity, sleep hygiene, stress busting, smoking cessation – to halt, reverse, and prevent this modern plague of chronic disease. And to do it in a way that engages millennials.
This approach needs to emphasize convenience, through on-demand telemedicine. It needs to leverage the power of community for this lonely generation, using cohort-based programming to bring millennials together socially in the pursuit of health and fitness. And it needs to be bold in sharing what is required to avoid and reverse chronic disease:
- to teach and empower employees and their families to eat really healthy diets, and not assume that big change is impractical or people won’t do it
- to inspire and guide employees to consider physical movement a requirement of human life, rather than a “thing” you’re either into or not
- to share and guide employees in practicing cognitive and neurobiological techniques to deal with the ever-increasing stresses of our wired, always-on lives
Lifestyle medicine is the perfect branch of the healthcare system to accomplish these goals. Because its chief currencies are information and empowerment, it’s perfectly suited to telemedicine.
Because it focuses on the whole human being within their social and physical environment, it appeals to lonely, alienated millennials who long for community and caring in all aspects of their lives, including work.
And because it addresses the cause of the chronic disease epidemic, it speaks to the millennial obsession with value. The mainstream system of treating symptoms while ignoring root causes has brought our economy to the brink of collapse, squeezed out the middle class, and led to the suffering of millions who didn’t know they had the power to choose their health destiny. No millennial can look at that old system and think, “That’s a good use of our resources.”
Empowering millennials with the tools and practices of lifestyle, by contrast, will prove itself quickly through reduced need for medication, weight loss, and improved mood and productivity. It’s the prescription we need to get our companies and our country back on the right track.
Howard Jacobson, PhD is chief behavioral science officer at WellStart Health and author of Sick to Fit. As co-founder of digital health company, WellStart Health, Howard guides clients to adopt and maintain lifestyle and dietary habits in alignment with their health goals and life values. WellStart Health engages large and midsize self-insured companies to work with high risk employees, making a direct positive impact on their bottom line while cultivating a healthier, more productive workforce and culture. Find out more by going to www.wellstarthealth.com