In the coming decade, many if not most medical practitioners patients see will be Millennials, people born between the years 1981 and 1998. Millennials think and act differently from their predecessors, and to reach them effectively medical communicators need to re-think many basic assumptions.

The Millennial takeover of medicine isn’t just happening because Millennials are the largest generational cohort in the US, already more than 76 million strong. They’re ascendant also because older physicians are leaving direct patient care in droves. The 2016 Physicians Foundation biennial survey of more than 17,000 US physicians reports that over 80 percent of respondents feel they’re working at full capacity or overextended. More than half describe their morale as somewhat or very negative; nearly half (49%) say they often or always feel burnt out. Half of the survey’s respondents report plans to cut back on hours, retire, take a non-clinical job, switch to “concierge” medicine or take other steps that reduce patient contact.

The Millennials stepping into their shoes aren’t going to be reading medical journals, attending congresses, viewing slides and lectures, dining together, and welcoming sales reps the way earlier generations did. Just a few of the key differences and what they mean to medical communications:

  • Born to compute. Millennials grew up surrounded by computers, and the connected technology baked into their smartwatches and phones give them fingertip access to troves of constantly-updating information. What prior generations had to memorize, Millennials now use apps to find, even as they sit with patients. To communicate with Millennials, we need insights into what words they choose to frame their queries... what underlying logic drives the algorithms of the apps they prefer... and what it takes to be convincing via computer.
  • Collaboration-crazy. Where many older clinicians prized autonomy, Millennials have been brought up to be inclusive of patients and peers. Collaborative decision-making for them isn’t a strategy for reducing risk exposure; it’s a way of life. So they seek ways to help ensure their patients understand increasingly complex medical concepts, and they tap their own vast social networks for advice. To be an influential voice heard in these conversations, communicators need analytic tools that unveil where they’re taking place as well as insights about how to credibly contribute.
  • Balancers. Millennials typically balk at sacrificing personal lives for careers, compared to earlier generations. They’re better at drawing boundaries; they’ve seen the relationship and emotional damage careerism can create. For many, medicine is a job, not a calling, and they work as employees rather than as entrepreneurs. Where yesteryear’s Marcus Welby, MD might use midnight oil to catch up on journal reading, many Millennials want just the top few lines, preferably pre-digested by an impeccably qualified expert. And they want to read it on their iPad while they work out on a treadmill.

There’s much more to the Millennial metamorphosis of medicine and what it means for medical communicators. Look forward to more on them in Vision 2020.

About the Author:

Wendy Balter is President of the Cadent Medical Communications agency specializing in the integration of multichannel planning, clinically driven scientific strategy and flawless execution of medical education programs.