The workforce is changing – drastically. Millennials, the age group born between 1981 and 2000, now make up 35% of today’s employees. Right on their heels is Gen Z, born between 2001 and 2020, the largest population segment in the U.S. The oldest members of this generation are now entering the workforce en masse.

Not only do these employees bring different opinions and expectations to the workplace, but they also bring new demands – especially when it comes to their healthcare. Today’s employers are evaluating their benefits plans through a new lens to ensure they’re meeting the needs of today’s workers.

What Younger Employees Want

Said simply, they want simplicity, convenience, flexibility and speed. They’re used to navigating the world from the palm of their hand. They’re the reason DoorDash, Uber and on-demand everything came to be.

It’s no surprise they’re largely dissatisfied with today’s healthcare system – it’s the opposite of easy and convenient. Instead of traditional healthcare, they want control of how, where and when they access services.

The Demand for Virtual Care

The pandemic pushed digital health to new heights – and there’s no going back. HIMSS 2021 State of Healthcare Report revealed nearly two-thirds of respondents prefer the convenience of virtual vs. in-person care. That number is even higher among younger generations: Gen Z and Millennials are entirely on board with telehealth, with 44% reporting they may switch providers if virtual visits aren’t offered going forward.

But this isn’t new news. A 2017 survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute/Greenwald & Associates showed that millennials rated virtual care as “extremely or very important” to their choice of medical provider. That was three years before COVID-19 – but it took a pandemic to put telehealth into the spotlight and modernize the way Americans access healthcare.

Indeed, a July 2021 report from McKinsey & Co. shows that telehealth use has stabilized at levels 38 times higher than before the pandemic.

High Need for Mental Healthcare

The rise in mental health conditions alongside COVID-19 is being billed a dual pandemic. This is especially true of Gen Z and Millennials, who are disproportionately affected by mental illness in the era of COVID-19.

Gen Z is the most depressed generation in the U.S. – and this was true even before the pandemic.

A 2019 survey from the American Psychological Association (APA) showed 91% of Gen Z survey respondents reported a physical or emotional symptom due to stress and mental illness in the prior year.

Likewise, mental health among Millennials is declining steadily. Blue Cross Blue Shield reported a whopping 47% increase in major-depression diagnoses among this group since 2013. 

And it’s only getting worse.

A report from NRC Health shows both generations were most likely to say their mental health significantly worsened during the pandemic. But if there’s a silver lining, it’s that Gen Z and Millennials also are more likely than other age groups to seek appropriate treatment. In fact, Business Insider reports they are demanding their employers offer resources to address their mental health challenges.

Employers are now turning to virtual care to address the mental and emotional needs of their staff. Not only does the virtual model overcome barriers of traditional care, but the American Psychological Association reports it’s just as effective as in-person care in treating common issues like depression and anxiety – issues that pummel productivity and often affect physical health.

For younger generations, teletherapy and telepsychiatry check all the boxes. Employees who grew up with devices in their hands are more comfortable talking to a mental health provider via video than in person. And a new report from McKinsey & Co. shows a full 50% of psychiatry visits are now virtual.

For employers, investing in behavioral healthcare delivers strong ROI: According to the World Health Organization, every $1 investment in mental health treatments delivers a $4 return in increased health and productivity.

Virtual Primary Care Leads to Better Health

As the Benjamin Franklin saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In this case, regular preventive and primary care services – like annual wellness visits, vaccines, screenings and labs – are directly linked to better health outcomes and lower costs.

But despite the important role of primary care, Millennials and Gen Z are far less likely than older generations to have a primary care provider. Kaiser Family Foundation reported that fewer than half of Millennials have a primary care doctor, opting instead to Google their symptoms or visit a minute clinic when they’re sick. This is hardly surprising: according to Accenture, both Millennials and Gen Z report they’re “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with traditional healthcare.

Virtual primary care is the lynchpin for these employees – and also for the companies that employ them. The virtual model is convenient, effective, efficient and transparent – the things younger generations value most – and it also delivers significant benefits for employers.

In fact, research from Oregon Health Authority shows that every $1 invested in primary care yields $13 in savings in downstream costs.

With regular primary care, PCPs can identify health problems early on and intervene before serious and costly issues arise. And since the oldest millennials are beginning to enter middle age, now is exactly the right time for them to start seeing a doctor routinely.

Virtual Care Key to Retention

As employees’ healthcare expectations change, employers are following suit. Not only do companies want to provide employees with the healthcare services they want and need, but it’s a core retention strategy in today’s tight race for talent.

Indeed, given the staggering costs of attrition, employers must do all they can to keep their staff happy. The Society for Human Resource Management estimates that every time a business replaces a salaried employee, it costs an average of six-to-nine months’ salary. Gallup reports that millennials in particular are prone to job-hopping.

Since employees consistently rank healthcare as the most important benefit at work, companies must ensure their health plan meets the needs and expectations of their workforce. And for younger generations, that means putting virtual care at the forefront of benefits design, from primary and urgent care to teletherapy and telepsychiatry.

A Bonus for Employers

The great news is that giving younger workers exactly what they want from their healthcare is a boon for employers, too. Beyond improving retention, telehealth saves money while boosting productivity and employee satisfaction:

Cost Savings: In a time when U.S. healthcare costs are skyrocketing, telehealth enables employers to offer a high-value option for medical care – without a high price tag. A telehealth appointment averages about $40, compared to $79 for a doctor’s office visit and $1,734 for the emergency room. Employers save money on every visit. Perhaps most important, the model can drive down long-term health costs dramatically while also improving employees’ health and productivity.

Productivity: Telehealth saves an average of 45 minutes in transportation and waiting room time. Not only is that inefficient, but many young employees simply won’t do it. Going to the doctor is a chore. They would prefer to Google their symptoms or just suffer through an illness.

Beyond time away from work, a healthy workforce is integral to a healthy bottom line. Employees who don’t have access to the care they want – when, where and how they want it – are at higher risk of absenteeism or presenteeism, which reduces productivity across the board.

Quality: The research continually shows that telehealth is high quality. A meta-analysis of outcomes data published in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare consistently showed virtual care across a range of medical disciplines was just as good as – if not better than – brick-and-mortar care. This was especially true of teletherapy and telepsychiatry.

Must-Do for Millennials and Gen Z

For Gen Z and Millennials, virtual care is not a “nice to have.” It’s now a “must do” – and it’s key to satisfaction at work.

The great news for employers? Virtual care is a win-win for everyone. Learn more about MeMD’s medical and behavioral health telehealth solutions.

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