Advice for Dealing With 20-something Patients, From a 20-something

August 16, 2011

By 2014, more than 12 million Americans between the ages of 19 and 26 will gain subsidized health insurance. That’s a group roughly the size of Pennsylvania’s population. Are you prepared?

A new wave of patients is arriving: the 20-somethings.

In the first five months of 2011, 600,000 young adults gained insurance as a result of health reform, according to The Commonwealth Fund.

And many more are coming.

By 2014, more than 12 million Americans between the ages of 19 and 26 will gain subsidized health insurance.

That’s a group roughly the size of Pennsylvania’s population.

Are you prepared?

A recent article in American Medical News discusses this “surge” in 20-something patients, and the need for physicians to relate to them in new ways. The first step, and perhaps the most challenging, is getting these patients to stop in for a visit.

As a 20-something myself, I can vouch for the fact that the majority of my peers do not visit a doctor annually. Unless we’ve undergone a difficult medical experience in our past, or we’ve had a friend or family member who has, we tend to forget that just because we feel healthy, doesn’t mean we are healthy.

To make matters worse, we hit the workforce the same time the recession did. Many of us struggled to find employment at all, and if we did, it often did not provide health insurance.

As a result, regular doctor’s visits just cost us too much. And though we know it’s a dangerous misconception, we’ve come to see primary care as an extra expense, rather than a necessity.

So what can physicians and practices do to attract 20-somethings? And how can you keep them coming back regularly?

Be accessible.

My peers and I grew up with the Internet - we use it for everything from making travel arrangements, to communicating with friends, to finding places to live, to ordering takeout.

When searching for a physician, you can count on us to use the Internet. When making an appointment, we’d like to use the Internet. When receiving lab or test results, we’d like to see them through the Internet.

The more accessible you are to us online, the more likely it is we’ll find you and choose to visit you.

Also, it’s important to keep in mind that many of us are unclear what’s expected when it comes to setting up, attending, and paying for our first appointment. For most of us, this has always been handled by our parents or guardians.

We appreciate directness. Providing us with forms to fill out before the appointment, advising us what to bring, telling us where and when to arrive, and explaining our insurance, billing, and copay options, will make us feel comfortable coming to your practice - and comfortable continuing to come back.

The relationship we have with the physician who treats us is also very important. And it can play a key role in whether we choose to remain with your practice.

Younger patients are sometimes more comfortable and receptive to younger physicians. Or, we may appreciate an older, more parental figure. If your practice has numerous physicians, consider asking the patient before the appointment who he would most like to see.

An active Facebook or Twitter presence is another great way to build a relationship with 20-somethings. I’m not suggesting you engage in regular conversations with us. But, if you post daily health updates and tips, we will be watching and listening.

Your social media presence will help us get to know you better as a physician and/or as an office. And it will help us to stay on top of our health.

Most importantly, it will serve as a reminder for us to schedule our next appointment.

Hopefully, if you draw us in now, we will keep coming back to you for regular visits - throughout our 20s and in the years to come.