Millennial input changes the health care experience

Dozens of quick care doc-in-a-box facilities dot the greater Lansing area, some private, others affiliated with area hospitals or Michigan State University. It is how this generation seeks out first-line medical care. Area medical practices promote their services on Facebook and monitor – and respond to comments – on social media. They schedule appointments, post reminders and email receipts via smart phones.

“Millennials are about efficiency and convenience. It’s the reason that people come to us and the reason that they keep coming back,” said Hillary Myers, director of business development and marketing for Lansing Urgent Care, a private ready care practice with five local offices, and a sixth coming soon.

The range of services provided by Lansing Urgent Care and other clinics is limited, but well-suited to Millennials. In general, the health needs of young adults in their 20s and early 30s are basic: minor injuries and illnesses, lacerations, sports and job physicals, fracture care and casting. The clinics often have on-site x-ray and lab facilities. And the hours are convenient.

Lansing Urgent Care’s office on Clippert Street is open 24 hours; the others are open between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays; and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

“People use urgent care because it so easily accessible. You can be seen and back on your way in an hour,” Myers said. “We provide minor injury and illness care. As a rule of thumb, it is not a good place for chronic injuries.”

Experts say that while Millennials certainly influence how health care is delivered, some changes are happening because of broader social trends.

“I don’t know that it’s the Millennial era that is forcing health care providers to focus on access and quality. Patients are more educated about medical care and the Internet is the primary reason for that. It encourages patients to do substantial research online,” said Tom Mee, president and CEO of McLaren Greater Lansing.

In general, health care providers applaud more engaged patients, whether it’s about treatment options, drugs or even billing. But there are wrinkles.

“Millennials like lots of information and want to know why,” said Dr. Jennifer Huldin, an occupational medical specialist with Lansing Urgent Care who previously worked at Michigan State University’s Olin Health Center. “Older patients tend to go to the doctor and do as the doctor tells them. There is a lot more education to do with Millennials – a lot more explaining and teaching.”

Compared with older generations, the relationship with medical practices is much looser or has yet to develop.

“Baby Boomers are very loyal to their primary care physician. Millennials are not as loyal. They will go to urgent care because it is fast – instant gratification,” said Dr. David Corteville, chief operating officer of Compass Health, a multi-specialty medical group.

“One of the things they will do is seek out the point of care that is least expensive if the quality is the same. They want to know what their upfront cost is, asking, ‘If I have this procedure, what is going to be the cost benefit,’” Corteville said.

Millennials, like all Americans, are covered by the Affordable Care Act mandate that they have health care or pay a penalty. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2016, fines for being uninsured are $695, or 2.5 percent of taxable income. For those with children, the no-insurance penalty is $347.50 per child with a maximum family charge of $2,085 per family.

The penalty payment is a cost that Millennials without employer-health plans weigh against purchasing commercial insurance coverage with premiums that vary by providers, deductibles, age, tobacco usage and other factors.

According to estimates from the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services, the cost of a mid-level plan for a 25-year-old non-smoker is $279 for Physicians Health Plan Sparrow PHP Silver Premier policy. It increases to $350 at age 35. The McLaren Rewards Silver plan costs $244 at age 25; $297 at age 35. Most “silver” plans offered in the mid-Michigan region fall within this range.

“There is absolutely no question that the Affordable Care Act has affected the delivery of service to Millennials,” Mee said. “If you look at today’s insured workforce, 40 percent have deductibles in excess of $1,000. They look at how much it will cost before they approach us.”

The search for value – quality care at the lowest possible cost – is enhanced by the use of social media, said Myers.

It is the reason that Lansing Urgent Care tracks what patients say about their experiences, both good and bad. A Google review in early February on a Lansing Urgent Care page featured a scathing review from an obviously dissatisfied customer who complained of misdiagnosis and an altogether bad medical experience.

Myers responded quickly, asked the poster to discuss the experience, adding that, “Our patients mean everything to our company and I would like the opportunity to learn from your experience to ensure this does not occur again.” She also responds to the notes of praise, of which there are many.

“Our goal is to respond as quickly as possible. We have always felt that the patient experience doesn’t start and end with a visit to the clinic. It goes well beyond that,” Myers said.

The medical practice, like others, monitors social media sites like Google reviews, Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter. “Without a lot of the feedback we have received, I don’t think we would be providing the level of service that we do. We’re open 24 hours because we listened.”

Myers added that a personal response often saves the relationship. “Most of the people who have brought concerns or complaints are still patients. They have come back and continue to come back because we listen to them.”

The degree to which social media and other digital delivery systems figure into health care decisions is significant. A survey by PNC Financial Group found that 50 percent of Millennials and Gen Xers use online information from services when shopping for a provider. Services like Yelp, U.S. News and World Report, Health care Bluebook and Healthgrades are among the most popular.

Healthgrades, for example, claims that every day more than 1 million people use the service for reports on doctors and hospitals.

Its reports on Lansing’s hospitals are typical. It gives Sparrow Hospital four Healthgrades 5-Star Ratings, one Healthgrades Quality Award and notes that it has 1,011 affiliated providers. McLaren Greater Lansing also gets five Healthgrades 5-Star Ratings, two Healthgrades Quality Awards and 471 affiliated providers. Reviews for both hospitals rate and detail an array of services.

Experts say access to this sort of information is the future of health care. And for Millennials, the future is now.

“Millennials are a completely different generation,” said Corteville. “They are ever questioning. It keeps health care providers on their toes.”

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