Millennials are taking healthcare into their own hands with digital tools and social media

Lucy Ireland
Millenials wellness generation

Millennials (people aged 25 to 40 years of age) are preoccupied with their own health and wellness. This is the generation that smokes less, exercises more and takes proactive steps to monitor their health. Fitness monitors track steps, diet apps monitor food consumption and sound apps track sleeping patterns.

They are also the most likely generation to personalise their healthcare, with gut microbiome tests that guide what to eat and what to avoid, glucose trackers like Zoe that measure how certain food types might impact gut inflammation, and DNA tests that identify potential future illnesses.

Hall & Partners’ Patient Trendscoping: What You Need To Know About Patients of the Future study is one of the largest global healthcare research studies conducted on attitudes to future healthcare over the last decade. It reveals a distinct unwillingness of both Generation Z and millennials to engage with the current healthcare system. Nearly half of younger people claim they don’t have time to attend a face to face doctor’s appointment for example, which perhaps masks many other factors that our study shows make today’s healthcare systems seem inaccessible.

Around one in four people in the UK and US (26% in UK and 22% in the US) for example feel dismissed and not taken seriously by medical professionals when discussing their symptoms. When it comes to some harder-to-diagnose conditions the higher the percentage of patients that are being alienated. For depression it’s 37%, autoimmune conditions, 43%, and for neurodivergent conditions can be as high as 50%. In part this explains why those with chronic conditions, even GenZ, are turning to social media influencers or the growing number of digital health apps to manage their health and avoid the visiting a healthcare professional.

Doing it for themselves

These younger generations now expect ‘healthcare on demand’ but it comes with a cost. In the UK, the NHS free healthcare just can’t provide healthcare on demand. In the US, different issues such as affordability of healthcare and even discrimination - with 16% of Americans having felt discriminated against by a healthcare professional because of their age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or weight - come into play.

Turning to medical ‘influencers’ is one way that these younger generations are taking control. For example, 33% of GenZ and 26% of millennials (compared to 5% of Baby Boomers) globally will use social media to discuss illness and health concerns.

Even when they do visit a doctor, 29% of US GenZ and 32% of millennials ask to be prescribed based on information they have read on a website, and 20% of GenZ specifically requests treatments they had heard about from another patient or influencer. This compares to just 7% of Baby Boomers who ask to be prescribed based on online information and 4% of the same group who reference treatment information from other patients or influencers.

The proliferation of preventative healthcare apps, diagnostic test kits and virtual consultations is making it easier for younger, as well as older, generations to take proactive steps to ensure a better quality of life, at the same time as alleviate their clear discomfort of visiting a healthcare providers. Even the NHS is launching mid-life MOTs for more than 15 million adults over the age of 40 using at-home blood testing kits.

For brands navigating the changes in patient focus from reactive to proactive management of their health and wellness, it is essential to understand how these dynamics are changing the patient journey and the decisions that patients and care givers make - for example, how often are patients requesting treatment and where. This will also impact how brands engage with these new communication channels or create new ways to engage with patients digitally. Patient influencers for example act and expect to be engaged with differently compared to more traditional influencers such as Patient Advisory Groups (PAGs).

Now is the time for healthcare systems and pharmaceutical companies to harness this new age of digital health. By redesigning the delivery of healthcare they will not only meet the needs of a new generation of patients, but help older generations too.