The impact of millennials’ interpretations and expectations of quality service from the healthcare profession in general, and of laboratories in particular, continues to grow with each passing year.   Now the largest generation demographically, millennials are coming of age and gradually assuming their rightful place as both mass consumers of healthcare services as well as providers.

Quality service has always been defined in terms of technological processes as well as customer service. The former is based on meeting or exceeding quality performance standards through all phases of testing to produce the most accurate results for the physician, as soon as possible.

The level of customer service has historically been assessed by how well the laboratory communicated with the medical staff, and “went the extra mile” to meet their needs and expectations.  This included a test menu that matched the needs of the medical staff, test order guidance, result interpretation readily provided  with clear  and complete test reports.

However, under the ever-accelerating rate of technological change and innovation, expectations of what the laboratory can do, should do, and must do are changing. From the purely technical point of view, new test methodologies and new instrumentation have enabled new test specialties to emerge.  Customer service has now broadened beyond the laboratory/physician continuum to include direct patient access to laboratory services.

Why discuss the specific role of millennials at this point?  Because they are now transitioning to assume leadership and becoming the largest consumers in this revolution in healthcare.

Unlike Boomers or GenXers,  Millennials are coming of age when all these advances now exist;  and their expectations are to fully utilize the newest technology already available. If laboratory test results can be digitally reported on hand-held devices, why shouldn’t patients have direct access to their results?   Do they really need a physician as an intermediary when they can go on-line and self-diagnose?  Why wait for an appointment?

These generational expectations  become cultural norms, codified  politically through new legislation enabling the rightful use of this new technology, i.e. direct patient access for both requesting and receiving tests without the physician required as intermediary.

A few observations:

Growing up with video games, Google and the various trappings of the digital age, millennials’ perspectives are strongly shaped by having the World Wide Web and all its spoils literally at their fingertips.  “They’re used to reaching out when they need something, getting instant gratification, moving on and only coming back when they have the need again.”

Millennials also aren’t as tied to the idea that they must have one specific doctor be their physician. For standard checkups and consultations, some don’t even feel the need to see a doctor at all. Instead, many millennials are content with seeing a nurse practitioner or physician assistant.

Millennials also topped a 2012 Deloitte survey as the generation that is most cost-conscious. It’s the group that’s most willing to switch doctors, use retail clinics and travel farther in order to save money on healthcare.

One way insurance providers are addressing millennials’ penchant for pinching pennies is by offering new tools that allow customers to do price comparisons for services such as laboratory work.  There is a company called ClearCost Health, which allows customers to do price checks between health services via computer, mobile or even a call center.

In summary, quality laboratory service now includes;

  • Direct access by patients to their complete medical records, including test results
  • Requests for interpretation of test results
  • Testing requests directly from the patient, without physician orders
  • Increased interaction by patients with the laboratory through patient portals available on their computer and mobile devices. These have almost an unlimited capacity to replace in-person visits to access test information, receive information about prescribed medication, complete required signature forms ranging from insurance documents to consent agreements, as well as make future appointments for office visits, submit questions, and provide comments.
  • Increased need for additional communication skills by laboratory staff, since customer service personnel are now expected to provide a wider variety of information.
  • An awareness that social media provides a forum for both positive and negative reviews of the services provided.

One last note: It is important to hire these younger people who are comfortable with new technologies and open to trying new concepts in the field. Just as millennials can make a difference as patients, they also can also contribute to this as laboratory staff.

Originally published in ADVANCE for Laboratory Lab Quality Advisor Blog