New evidence from a variety of surveys indicates that millennials, those between the ages of 18 and 34, differ from other generations in how they visit doctors and obtain medical care.
The overall trend shows that Millennials are more likely skip doctor’s visits in favor of other priorities, in doing so using sources such as Google and WebMD before calling a primary care physician (PCP). Such behaviors have the possibility of endangering Millennials’ health and increasing the cost of health care down the road.
A survey by FAIR Health, a nonprofit organization that gathers information on health data, found that over 50 percent of Millennials use means such as retail clinics, urgent care centers, or emergency rooms for non-emergency medical care.
Data from a consumer survey conducted by PNC Healthcare earlier this year shows that Millennials prefer to use these means more than other generations. According to the survey, 34 percent of millennials favor retail clinics, compared to only 17 percent of baby boomers and 15 percent of seniors. A quarter of millennials said they preferred acute care clinics, while only 14 percent of baby boomers and 11 percent of seniors said so.
However, both baby boomers (80 percent) and seniors (85 percent) were more likely to visit a PCP. Only 61 percent of Millennials surveyed said they visited a PCP.
In June, ZocDoc, an online appointment website, conducted a survey of Millennials regarding how often they visit the doctor.
Just over half (51 percent) said they go to the doctor’s office less than once a year. Around 93 percent of those surveyed said they don’t schedule preventative visits, while 42 percent said there was a good chance they would cancel a doctor’s appointment if they were too busy.
In addition to not visiting the doctor, Millennials tend to turn toward self-diagnosis and self-treatment. A 2014 study by consulting firm Communispace, now C Space, found that 28 percent of Millennials said they self-diagnose a medical condition and 36 percent treat themselves at home before they see a doctor.
The same study found that only 55 percent would immediately go to the doctor’s office if they found a lump on their neck, compared to 73 percent of non-Millennials.
Almost 40 percent of Millennials said they would first wait to see if the lump got worse or went away.
These trends in the behavior of millennials when it comes to medical care could jeopardize their health in the long run. A study published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in August found that physical and mental issues ignored during youth were more likely to come back or last into adulthood.
Specifically, the chances that adverse health conditions would be present in adulthood were 13 to 52 percent higher in those who reported unmet health needs as adolescents.
So what does this mean for health care costs?
Overall, health care spending is on the rise in the U.S, as totals are expected to reach $3.207 trillion this year and continue to rise by an average of 4.9 percent annually until 2024.
Doctors point to the type of medical care used by Millennials as one of the driving forces of rising costs. The idea of rotating between retail clinics and emergency rooms is one that they don’t agree with.
Doctors say that facilities such as retail clinics and emergency rooms aren’t supposed to replace primary care, even though that’s exactly how Millennials are using them. The argument is that these places don’t create long-term relationships between doctors and patients, something one can usually get from a PCP.