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Millennials’ Characteristic Technology Use May Harm Health Outcomes

millennial using his smartphone

Last fall, a study of more than 1,000 millennials revealed that nearly 90 percent of them reported that they always have their smartphones handy. Texting, tweeting, shopping, surfing—if it can be done on a smartphone screen, that’s where Millennials are doing it. James DeBello, the CEO of mobile banking solution provider Mitek, told USA Today that, “businesses will ignore this at their peril.” It should come as no surprise, therefore, that this particular Millennial characteristic—a near obsession with their smart devices—extends to how they deal with health-related matters. Unfortunately, many cases, it may be doing more harm than good.

Does it Matter When the App Gets It Wrong?

As we’ve noted in a previous blog, a love of smartphones is not the only Millennial characteristic that healthcare providers need to consider. Millennials also bring a healthy dose of independence and skepticism to the table, leading to a reliance on Dr. Google, self-diagnosis apps or a quick text to Mom over the more traditional approach of making a doctor’s appointment to discuss a health concern. The problem is that online tools or apps are not making the grade when it comes to accurately diagnosing problems—and that’s no small problem consider patients used symptom checkers more than 100 million times last year.

In a Harvard Medical School study which reviewed 23 sites, including the likes of WebMD and the Mayo Clinic, researchers explored 45 common symptom scenarios and found that:

  • Overall, only 33 percent of the sites had the correct diagnosis as the first answer for each scenario.
  • 50 percent of the sites managed a correct diagnosis among the top three answers.
  • 58 percent of the sites included the correct diagnosis among the top 20 answers.

Not stellar results, although some sites did perform better. Isabel ranked highly in the study, offering the correct answer right away for more than 40 percent of the test scenarios and achieving an 84 percent success rate for a correct diagnosis within the top 20 list. While one of the study’s authors, Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, warns against patients relying too heavily on symptom-checker tools, he did say that they offer similar accuracy to call-in lines offered by insurers or physician groups and are definitely a step up from a random Internet search.

Providing Tools that Engage Millennials

But are Millennials—or others who use these symptom checkers—gaining any advantage from them, even if they’re not foolproof?

Since the majority of Millennials are likely to turn to a smartphone to at least begin health-related inquiries, such self-diagnosis tools do add value. Dr. John Wilkinson, who works on the Mayo Clinic’s symptom checker, said that they are continuously working to improve accuracy, but also suggests that the tool is also designed to provide healthcare consumers with access to additional information. Jason Maude, co-founder of Isabel, agreed.

“Looking at whether these tools are good enough to replace the doctor is the wrong debate,” he said. “The whole point is not to set the patient against the doctor or replace the doctor, but to make the patient much better informed and to ask the doctor much better questions, and then together they should do a much better job.”

Despite the shared Millennial characteristics, Millennials do not share a universal mindset about health and wellness. Like other demographic groups, individuals fall into different psychographic segments based on varying attitudes and goals. However, a large segment of Millennials—40 percent—does fall into the same psychographic category: Willful Endurers. For them, quick access to health information and convenient appointment making are important tools. Messaging to this psychographic segment is also very different than the messaging one would use for other psychographic segments, because Willful Endurers’ motivations and triggers are unique. Hospitals and other healthcare providers need to complement self-diagnosis tools with other Millennial-friendly options that meet the varying individual needs within the cohort, similar to the appointments via mobile, online chat or text notifications introduced by the Cleveland Clinic.

What are you doing to reach out to the smartphone-loving, Dr. Google-reliant millennial healthcare consumers?

Psychographic Segmentation and its Practical Application in Patient Engagement and Behavior Change

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