Kent Groves

PhD, Chief Strategy Officer, dentsu health

The recent dentsu Navigator study Health and the Renaissance of Human Care leverages a nationally representative survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers to assess how Americans’ healthcare habits and expectations have evolved as a result of the pandemic and other events that have unfolded in the last couple of years. Drawing on insights from the study, this blog post will focus on Millennials and Gen Z Americans and how their attitudes differentiate from those of other generational cohorts to provide to health and wellness brands a high-level roadmap focused on building relationships with younger consumers. While there are many categories that we consider to be “barometers” of changing attitudes in health, in this article we will focus on four primary areas: Telehealth, Health Literacy, Trust in (big) Pharma and Optimizing Rx/OTC relationships. 

 Telehealth is losing favor, but in-person care options need to show up online 

 Overall, the study showed a significant preference (75%) among U.S. consumers for in-person doctor visits and a decline in confidence in the effectiveness of telehealth services (61% vs. 68% in August 2020). Gen Z are less likely to consider these services accessible and affordable (only 57% say so, compared to 78% average among the other cohorts). While we tend to assume that younger consumers have a greater affinity for tech-enabled solutions, this insight suggest that is not always the case, and there is work to be done here. 

On the other side, Gen Z take more initiative on their own while looking for doctors and specialists, so they expect to have more information available to them online to make their selection: 20% search for providers in their insurance coverage package/app (vs. 12% of all consumers) so they don’t have to pay for care and get refunded at a later date and 14% of them look at online reviews (vs. 9% across all cohorts). 

 For clinics and provider networks that are looking to attract younger patients, it’s recommended to forge strong relationships with insurance companies based on optimizing the end-consumer experience. It’s also recommended to encourage long standing customers to take the time to review their visits and their overall relationship with the doctor and the business. This reinforces, indeed emphasizes, the role of office staff (e.g., reimbursement specialists) who can support coverage analysis and support. 

 Health literacy and tracking become fine combed activities 

Despite being the youngest, Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to research health and wellness information weekly, more than Gen X and Boomers. On average, 70% of Americans use search engines like Google for this type of research, with a peak (77%) among Gen X. However, among Gen Z this figure lowers to 55%. Gen Z is also the most likely cohort to use printed or online specialized publications and, surprisingly, the most likely to ask for literature at the doctor’s office. This strongly suggests that pharma brands should continue investing in creativity to produce effective patient education materials. In many therapeutic areas, ongoing support for patient/therapeutic coaching programs should be (re)considered. 

 Gen Z and Millennials (41% each) are the cohorts most likely to wear fitness tracking devices. Unsurprisingly, there’s a high number of Boomers (41%) using at-home devices to monitor deeper health metrics such as blood pressure, glucose levels and sleep patterns. What we didn’t expect is that Gen Z follow suit right behind them (40%). When it comes to the data generated by these devices, Millennials over-index on comfort sharing it with insurance companies (67% agree) and with pharmaceutical companies (65%). Gen Z follow suit in this area at 57%. 

 There’s an opportunity for brands to work towards offering more frictionless experiences of care, securing consent for personal health data in exchange for consumer benefits (for example, lower insurance premiums) and having point of care resources to answer questions, address concerns and support therapeutic propensity and adherence.  

 Increased faith in pharma brands needs to be fueled with human traits 

 Younger generations are more likely to say the pandemic has increased their faith in pharmaceutical companies: while only 28% Boomers and 29% Gen X said so, this figure increased to 42% among Millennials and 49% among Millennials.  

 Interestingly, Millennials were the cohort most likely to think pharmaceutical companies have their best interest at heart. While this resulted from only 19% agreeing, it indicates there is still a lot of work for pharma to do to garner favor with consumers (but they are moving in the right direction). 

 When it comes to choosing between pharma brands, there’s a cross-generational consensus on the importance of comprehensive and transparent product information, specifically fair balance in detailing effectiveness, side-effects and co-morbidities. In comparison to older consumers, younger Americans place more value on pharma brands’ ability to make their products and ethos easily discoverable through digital channels.  

 Gen Z (23%) and Millennials (21%) are more likely to take notice of pharma brands’ involvement with non-profit organizations that fund research against illnesses (only 14% among both Gen X and Boomers). They are also more likely to reward pharma brands that demonstrate empathy towards those who suffer (almost a quarter of Millennials (24%) indicated this was a key attribute) and brands that provide inspiration and a hopeful outlook on the future of health. 

 Pharma brands that are looking to grow consensus with a younger customer base should invest specifically in creative campaigns that break through culture with messages focused on human traits (empathy, inspiration and hope). Intuitively, work in this area will inform and influence gains in trust and faith in the brand and company. 

 Experiential perks are key to building a loyal pharma customer base  

Given increasing competition from white-label and generic brands owned by retailers, pharmaceutical brands need to develop strategies to optimize customer lifetime value in their own right. They need to offer competitive products in the context of large portfolios of goods predicated upon direct consumer relationships, and compete in an environment where start-ups focused on natural remedies and homeopathic products often find success selling through subscription models. 

 We asked Americans what type of perks they would like to see pharma brands offer in the context of loyalty programs: naturally, benefits that create a financial advantage garner most favor. It’s interesting, however, to note that younger consumers over-index on experiential rewards: for instance, 39% of Gen Z and 36% of Millennials want to see lifestyle perks such as travel and gym memberships offered in the context of loyalty programs run by pharmaceutical brands, while this figure lowers significantly among Gen X and Boomers. Similarly, Gen Z and Millennials want to see pharmaceutical brands make experiential content like diet and exercise tips available to them in the context of pharma brands’ loyalty programs. 

 Pharmaceutical brands should consider partnerships with third-party companies that offer lifestyle related products and experiences, especially if they are targeting a younger demographic. 

The study indicated that today 65% of Americans believe the U.S. healthcare system will improve significantly over the next ten years. While it may be aspirational (or overly optimistic) to think that this will happen, we feel that with a properly crafted strategic view leveraging a number of the tactics suggested here, all the players in the health ecosystem might just help us get there, and perhaps, even accelerate the collective optimism for the future.  

To learn more about changing consumer expectations of healthcare and implications for health and wellness brands, download the full dentsu Navigator study here.