Millennials are now America's largest generation. Here are 4 ways they're changing health care.

Editor's note: This story was updated on June 20, 2017.

Aly Seidel

Aly Seidel, Daily Briefing

It's official: Millennials are now the largest living generation in the United States.

The country now includes 75.4 million millennials (those born between 1981 and 1997), compared with 74.9 million baby boomers, according to the Pew Research Center. And the number of millennials is expected to grow: As young immigrants migrate to the United States, Pew estimates the millennial population will peak at 81.1 million in 2036.

Yet despite millennials' numbers, many providers haven't yet focused on their needs; instead they've paid more attention to the older, less-healthy generations that are likelier to seek care on their own accord, The Advisory Board Company experts say.

But the times are changing: Millennials are growing older, and their health care consumption and preferences are shifting as they age.

Such changes represent opportunities for providers that act early to win the generation's business. Here are four things health care organizations need to know about the millennial market.

1. Millennials want to know about costs upfront. Millennials are particularly price-sensitive and risk-averse, says Emily Zuehlke, a senior analyst with the Advisory Board's Market Innovation Center. Growing up during the Great Recession has left them financially cautious, and many are struggling with unprecedented student loan debt. Price transparency is important to this generation, and they demand clear pricing information upfront.

To appeal to millennials, Zuehlke says, providers can offer innovative pricing models, convenient care visits with an advanced practitioner, and care warranties.

2. It's all about convenience. According to an Advisory Board survey, six of millenials' top 10 primary care priorities involve convenience, including extended hours, walk-in appointments, and the ability to have tests or X-rays done on-site. Prioritizing convenience—for instance, by setting up online appointment scheduling—can go a long way toward attracting and retaining millennial customers, Zuehlke says.

3. Millennials are tech-savvy—and want their providers to be, too. Millennials have grown up with the Internet. More than 80 percent own smartphones, and more than one-fourth used a health or fitness app in 2014. Their technology proficiency has leaked over into care: The Advisory Board found that at least 21 percent would consider a virtual visit via webcam, and 26 percent would consider emailing their doctor.

Get up-to-date on telehealth industry trends

To capitalize on this market, experts recommend that providers expand their telehealth and virtual options. Madhavi Kasinadhuni, a senior consultant with the Market Innovation Center, says that starting with secure email can be a great launching point. And in the near future, incorporating data from wearables might prove to be an effective way to personalize care.

4. This generation is more social than ever. Millennials are particularly open to sharing—and seeking out—recommendations with other people. They crowdsource opinions: 53 percent consider their friends and family to be trusted sources of health information, and nearly a quarter report reading online reviews when looking for a provider.

Going that extra mile for patient experience, Zuehlke says, can mean the difference between a good review and a bad one—and those experiences will quickly spread through millennials' social networks. Providers can also consider posting their own patient satisfaction scores online.

Appeal to every generation—and build long-term loyalty

the consumer expectations you need to meet to build long-term loyalty

O¬ffering a consumer-focused experience is becoming an increasingly important strategy for competing in today's health care marketplace, but most health systems' current experience strategy is insu fficient to build long-term loyalty.

If health care leaders want to develop durable relationships with patients, they need to fully understand what consumers expect from providers—and then exceed those expectations. Are you ready to meet your consumers' new expectations?

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