Millennials: The Generation in the Middle

Health Care Providers—Especially Hospitals—Are Paying Attention to this Demographic

Call them the meat in the sandwich, the volumes between the bookends, or the pages between the covers of the book, but when it comes to healthcare, the generation the popular media calls the “millennials” (often referred to as Generation Y) is solidly in the middle of what is shaping up to be America’s Healthcare System. Millennials, loosely defined as those having birth dates from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, have a wide range of responsibility for the health and well-being of not only themselves, but their children and their parents as well. In fact, according to conclusions drawn by Millennial Marketing, the site that tracks and reports on developing Millennial consumer and marketing trends, health issues and health care are likely to be the single biggest issue of their lives.

Health care concerns on the part of millennials manifest themselves in a number of ways, not the least of which is their attachment of importance to having adequate health care benefits from their employer. In fact, job-seeking millennials surveyed just a few years ago by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) ranked health insurance ahead of vacation time and retirement savings plans as a key incentive. And as the overhaul of our country’s health care system unfolds, the point is not lost that millennials “are the age group least likely to have health insurance, and when they do need health care, they experience problems accessing the health care system.”(1)

So, with the high level of importance millennials are attaching to health care, it’s not surprising that providers are taking note and injecting serious modifications into the deign of facilities for the near- and long-term care of patients.

What Millennials Look for in Health Care

It’s a connected generation. Just watch a group of 20- or 30-somethings in action and you’ll see the ubiquitous cell phone, tablet, or wearable monitoring devices displayed as a way of life. Millennials understand that technology drives virtually all phases of health care, and that connectivity is the key to a seamless experience. What this really means is that the universe of health care is now extended well beyond the confines of a brick-and-mortar hospital building, with the overall experience often beginning remotely with a cell phone-based sign-in from home, input of data from points along the way like drugstore clinics, gathering data from wrist monitors and so on, even before the patient arrives at the point of treatment.

These varying points of input to the health care process give patients a much more active voice in their own diagnosis and treatment, something that millennials tend to value quite highly. They expect more in the way of instant access to the process, including mobile apps to connect them to the health care network, peer-connected automation to facilitate personal data tracking, even opportunities to control the logging of wellness data into their electronic health records remotely.

In top of all that, millennials have a clear picture of what they expect to see in a hospital-based health care setting. From walk-in appointments (with minimal wait times) to a spa-like environment where relaxation can help remove some of the apprehension that normally accompanies a medical procedure, millennials have expectations of what comprises an acceptable treatment experience.

The Evolution of Health Care Facilities

Modern health care systems are embracing the connectivity issue through movement toward expanded telehealth capabilities, including recognizing the value of virtual consultations, patient input of data to electronic health records, remote monitoring of patient conditions before and after the hospital visit, and the use of kiosk-type facilities for patient check-in and registration. All of these things are important to millennials, but what about the actual time they’re in a hospital for treatment?

Most of us have at one time or another spent time in a “traditional” hospital room, either as a patient or visiting an acquaintance or family member. We recall the limitations of these facilities, most of which were designed with an eye toward medical efficiency and space conservation. Over the years, though, as it became more acceptable for families to stay together during hospital stays for longer periods of time, hospitals began to shift more toward flexibility in the use of hospital rooms. And now, perhaps driven by the expectations of the millennial generation, they’ve begun to think in terms of hospital rooms resembling small apartments. In these types of settings, rooms can be easily reconfigured to serve as office-type work areas (for those who want to work while hospitalized) or family care (where infants are accompanying the patient).

One classic example of this shift in thinking can be found in the design for patient facilities at Seattle Children’s Bellevue Clinic and Surgery Center in Washington State. Here, the patient room will be linked directly to the operating room, a feature critically important to young families because it enables them to stay physically connected longer. Families can relax together and even dine together while awaiting treatment. This design also eliminates the need for large waiting areas, where the physical detachment from the patient often produces apprehension on the part of isolated family members.

Seattle Children’s concept room is intended to transform health care spaces using flexibility and transformability–notions that conform well with the thoughts of a millennial culture, where economy, doing more with less, and being able to transform a space creatively are highly regarded.

Looking ahead

“By studying the preferences of each new generation, health care designers can develop ideas for facilities that support the needs of today’s patients while planning ahead for those of tomorrow. As millennials emerge as the nation’s next big demographic wave, their ideas about the health care experience, efficiency and connectivity are leading facility design into the future.” This quote from Health Facilities Management contributor Amy Eagle, a freelance writer and specialist in health care-related topics, sets the tone for the future of hospital and health care design. The key, though, is to build extreme flexibility into whatever designs are undertaken, since each generation will bring with it its own set of preferences, interests, and priorities. For more detailed information on Ms. Eagle’s thoughts on health care facility design, you might want to check out her article posted at




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