London millennials are more ready than ever for insured private healthcare. So has your marketing strategy caught up? Jane Braithwaite reports.

Key to the success of any business owner, including private healthcare practitioners, is to understand their clients/patients so that the marketing and delivery of services can be tailored to meet their exact needs.

It is imperative to understand how patients’ views are changing over time, particularly with the progressing use of technology and ways this is applied.

Understand­ing the characteristics of different age groups is also vital, particularity when considering technology.

Those marketing and communication methods that were successful five years ago are probably not ideal today and who knows what our patients will expect in five years’ time.

One effective way to keep abreast of changes is to consider the results of patient surveys. They give us some valuable insights into the minds of our patients and we can learn a great deal on the changes we should be making now to ensure continued long-term success.

Top Doctors, the global company connecting patients with healthcare specialists, recently commissioned a survey to better understand the beliefs and attitudes of Londoners towards healthcare.

Residents from all 33 London boroughs were questioned in September 2017. Being one of the most diverse places to live in the UK, it is safe to say this survey is likely to have questioned people from many different backgrounds.

Interesting reading

The results make for interesting reading – particularly, the differences in opinion between the different age groups questioned. The survey found 41% of 18- to 34-year-olds (or millennials) have private health insurance, compared to just 20% of Londoners over the age of 55.

These figures represent a change in terms of the typical user of private health, as the post-war ‘baby boomers’ would historically have been the generation most likely to have private health coverage.

The figures are also indicative of a difference in market use between our capital city and the rest of the country. Recent research released by health and social care market intelligence provider LaingBuisson found that, overall, just 10.6% of the UK population have private medical cover.

So, what do these results say about the attitude of millennials living in the capital to healthcare and, by extension, the private healthcare industry? And how can London’s private practices ensure that they are engaging with this age group?

Millennial attitudes to healthcare

Multiracial business people working together connected with technological devices like tablet and notebook – teamwork, business, working concept

The Top Doctor survey results show a clear change in the behaviours of millennials and baby boomers, but what is behind this difference in attitude?

Let’s first consider attitudes to the NHS. The 2013 King’s Fund report Time To Think Differently showed millennials do not consider collective welfare as important an issue as older generations, and also found ‘marked differences’ in NHS satisfaction rates between those over and under 65.

With this being the case, it could be said millennials might be supportive of individuals contributing financially to healthcare rather than it being solely the responsibility of the state.

The King’s Fund research put forward the idea that the generations following the baby boomers will not benefit from the same levels of financial security as those who came before them and, as a result, may be more focused on their own needs than those of others.

Could this be a reason why there appears to be an increase in private healthcare coverage in younger age groups?

The idea that millennials are stepping away from the NHS is further supported by another survey carried out in 2017 by DocTap.

This survey found that same-day appointment services offered by private practitioners were popular with the millennial age group and that many would prefer to pay for such services than wait for an NHS consultation.

Additional benefits, according to those surveyed, include consistency of care – that is to say, being able to see the same doctor at every appointment – longer appointment times and a sense of being able to take their time with their clinician.

The survey by the private online GP service also found that younger generations are much less committed to the notion of the NHS being the sole healthcare provider in comparison to older generations.

Millennial use of private healthcare insurance

Despite the evidence seeming to point to the idea that millennials favour private healthcare over the NHS and the fact that they are more likely to have a private healthcare plan, only half of this age group use their insurance to make a claim. Why is this?

You could say that there is simply less need for younger generations to access healthcare as much as older generations. People of this age group will, of course, be healthier and less prone to chronic conditions that occur with age.

Those who do have conditions that require regular specialist care may well find themselves in the position where their insurance policy will not cover any pre-existing conditions and, as a result, it is more financially viable for them to receive their treatment on the NHS.

Some younger patients may simply be minded to avoid using their healthcare policy because it does not provide extensive coverage. For example, some workplace private healthcare policies do not cover all aspects of care. The policy may only cover outpatient tests or there may be a financial limit on the amount a patient can claim back.

Furthermore, an opinion from the US is that millennials are more cost-conscious.

This age group is more likely to consider the cost of treatments before receiving them and when taking into account that a workplace may have a limit or an excess to pay, there may well be added costs associated with private care that millennials are not prepared to commit to.

How can private practices engage with this group?

The Top Doctors survey found that in London just 50% of the 18 to 34 age group have used their private healthcare insurance. This is high when compared to the over-55s, where just 35% have not used it.

There is, of course, no way to convince people to attend consultations and receive treatment if there is no need for it, but for those who do need to access expert healthcare in the private sector, it would be sensible to ensure your business is reaching this age group, who are – in London – more likely than any other group to have private medical insurance.

How to engage with millennials

➲ Recognise why private healthcare is popular in this age group and do what you can to tailor your service to their needs. If it is longer consultations that are popular, look at amending appointment times. If it is same-day appointments that prove popular, think about how and if this could work for your business.

➲ Liaise with your target audience and market your practice based on your findings. If you have existing patients in this age group, reach out to them to request feedback and ascertain what is important in terms of what they expect from the patient experience.

➲ Use appropriate platforms to market your business. Use social media, gaming and apps to reach this generation.

➲ Be authentic. Use testimonials and appealing stories of people’s healthcare journeys to help people to engage with your practice brand and better understand your values.

➲ Use content that is high-quality and shareable on social media – this will be more effective in terms of reaching out to this group than more traditional advertising methods.

➲ Think about how you can use technology to communicate with these patients. Communications that are tailored to the individual and accessible through smartphones might be attractive to this age group, but practices should be mindful of concerns about security and privacy.

➲ Millennials are highly likely to research their symptoms online before visiting a doctor. Private practices should recognise this behaviour and may want to provide health information on their websites as a way of engaging with this group.

➲ Millennials look for companies that reflect their personal values when choosing products. Think about what kind of impact you want your practice to make on society, and make sure this message is incorporated into your marketing.

Jane Braithwaite is Managing Director at Designated Medical and regularly contributes to the Independent Practitioner Today publication.

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