Why millennials are surprisingly unhealthy

December 10, 2019

Could telehealth reverse the trend?

Recent reports have shed light on what may become one of America’s most critical, yet overlooked, health crises: millennials’ declining mental and physical health.

Widely and foolishly stereotyped as smartphone-addicted, avocado-munching and constantly in need of reassurance, millennials have now revealed themselves to be something else entirely – a group whose chronic conditions threaten to hold back their own economic potential.

A recent report from Blue Cross Blue Shield and Moody’s Analytics sheds much-needed light on the problem. Millennials, which the report defines as those born between 1981 and 1996, are seeing both their physical and mental health decline faster than the previous generation as they age.

Between 2014 and 2017, rates of major depression jumped 31 percent among millennials, hyperactivity surged 29 percent, hypertension rose 16 percent and high cholesterol grew 12 percent, according to the report. Because of these mounting health problems, millennials – which make up the greatest share of the U.S. population and workforce today – are likely to generate greater demand for health services, driving up the nation’s already sky high health costs.

In perhaps the most troubling statistic, the report notes that lower levels of health alone could cost millennials more than $4,500 per year in real per-capita income compared to similarly aged Gen-Xers. “If the current pace of decline in millennial health continues unabated, the long-term consequences to the U.S. economy could be severe,” warns the report, which was based on claims data from 41 million Blue Cross members.

More convenience, better care
Independent consumer research conducted by Medici points to a potential contributing factor to millennials’ concerning health trends – frustration with a health system that fails to serve their needs.  More than any other generation, millennials stood out as the most frustrated by the health system’s lack of convenience, according to Medici’s July 2019 survey of 800 American adults who self-identified as being responsible for managing the healthcare of themselves or family members.

Indeed, when faced with the inconveniences of today’s healthcare system, younger patients are particularly impatient, and are more likely to seek alternatives faster. Our research revealed that millennials are 64 percent more likely than non-millennials to have used the emergency department to solve for convenience and access frustrations and are 42 percent more likely to have delayed or foregone care due to health system challenges.  

Overall, the research showed that 72 percent of consumers believe that making doctor’s appointments should be faster, while 70 percent believe it should be easier.

Telehealth, due to its millennial-appealing cost-savings and convenience, could be one of the keys to improving some of the health problems that the generation is so rapidly developing. Because of its ability to connect patients to care whenever and wherever they like, virtual care offers great potential to increase patient satisfaction.

Virtual care directly addresses one of patients’ most frequent complaints about doctor visits – long wait times. Patients are generally able to obtain telehealth appointments within minutes upon requesting them, and often can wait out that short time in the comfort of their own homes or workplaces. Low-acuity conditions, in particular, such as the common cold or ear infections, are more ideally handled via telehealth than traditional office visits, which frees up clinicians’ office time for more complex cases.

A 2017 study in BMJ Open reviewed 44 academic articles that examined the relationship between telehealth and patient satisfaction. Researchers found the factors most associated with telehealth patient satisfaction included: improved outcomes, ease of use, low cost, improved communication and decreased travel time.

Correspondingly, market research firm Parks Associates performed a consumer survey earlier this year that also found a strong correlation between virtual visits and patient satisfaction. The survey revealed that 70 percent of patients who had conducted virtual visits by video rated the service as excellent or good. Factors driving patient satisfaction included: quality of doctor visited (rated “excellent” by 58 percent of patients), quality of the audio/video connection (58 percent), cost of the service relative to its value (54 percent), ease of use (53 percent), range of issues telehealth services can help with (50 percent) and number of insurance companies that covered the visit (47 percent).

Disarming the ticking millennial time bomb
If left unchecked, the decline in millennials’ physical and mental health could portend a national emergency in the coming decades. Although there is opportunity to counter this trend while this group of Americans is still young, there is no time to waste.

By being open-minded about the benefits of telehealth, providers can better find pathways to deliver the care that millennials need in the setting that works best for them. Virtual visits offer convenience and cost savings that are difficult to obtain through any other means – not to mention an escape from the frustration that so many young people understandably feel with our health system.

Clinton Philips is founder and CEO of Medici, a virtual healthcare company that is working to change how healthcare is delivered by recreating the doctor-patient relationship.

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