How Millennials are Shifting the Paradigm Around Privacy in Healthcare

Though this year’s Super Bowl ads didn’t leave much to talk about, there were a few notable spots, one of which was Microsoft’s touching message about technology empowering people—real people, with real (often health-related) problems to solve. Sure, this kind of advertising helps humanize the Microsoft brand. But the most important message in the ad is the one it doesn’t tell. While it’s ostensibly centered on how people can be empowered by innovation, particularly within life sciences as the ad emphasized, it glosses over a key part of that equation: The only way we’re all going to be empowered is by “opting in” to the technology. Microsoft can build the fancy engines, but without fuel—in this case healthcare information—it’s not going anywhere.

Some signs would point to a stalled engine. The Deloitte Center for Healthcare Solutions’ fifth annual Survey of Health Care Consumers has shown little movement regarding consumers’ concerns around privacy and the security of their healthcare information. Thirty-one percent of adults are still concerned about the privacy and security of their health information. But in digging a layer deeper within the population of healthcare consumers, a dichotomy is revealed between older and younger consumers, with Baby Boomers 60% more likely than their Millennial children to be concerned about the privacy and security of their online medical information.

Part of the reason there may be a more relaxed attitude about sharing medical information amongst Millennials is that it’s all happening behind the electronic veil. Think about what Millennials share electronically—from the early days of Nike+ to the recent emergence of Fitbit and similar offerings like Jawbone’s UP, Millennials have embraced the idea of sharing how active (or inactive) they are.

Meanwhile, others feel compelled to use Instagram to share pictures of every single meal they eat. In other words, the most digitally engaged Millennials are sharing, well, everything, and often to a less-than-transparent benefit. There are tangible benefits to sharing outside of the possibility of giving your friends lunch-envy. Sharing semi-personal information publicly could result in greater accuracy in personal medical records, the possibility of more targeted treatments for current and future health problems, and the improvement of the overall health of the population. Those are some pretty sizable benefits.

As the Institute of Medicine puts it, “the totality of available health data is a crucial resource that should be considered an invaluable public asset in the pursuit of better care, improved health and lower healthcare costs.” In other words, what was once thought of as personal medical information is quickly being reframed as an “invaluable public asset.” And Millennials are more than happy to oblige.

So what does this mean for life sciences companies? How can we take Millennials’ willingness to share and use it in a way to provide a better customer experience? One way is to enable the sharing of information to provide a more seamless experience, as has happened in the provider space with ZocDoc Check-in. The digital doctor’s appointment manager has offered a simple proposition to consumers: Share your medical information with ZocDoc, and beyond just enabling you to book your appointment online, they’ll fill out all the pre-appointment paperwork. You give them information, and in exchange they give you convenience and the promise of a more accurate personal health record. The latter point touches upon another way to drive value using Millennials’ willingness to share, by helping them achieve better medical outcomes, not to mention cutting back on waiting-room paperwork.

The conversation has shifted from referring to healthcare consumers as “patients” to instead simply calling them “consumers.” But as soon as they’re facing an issue—acute or chronic—the quality of medical outcomes are paramount. This of course includes fully leveraging the emerging wealth of medical data to develop better therapies and ensuring the power of the data behind it is applied in messaging to those consumers. While 23andMe has drawn regulatory ire of late, their decision to offer an API that makes their database more accessible to third parties could portend things to come. Widely accessible, user-generated medical information, especially given the emergence of wearable tech like the aforementioned Fitbit, is only as good as the results it provides.

But the opportunity doesn’t just lie in hard data. Another strategy is to engage with Millennials directly at the point in which they’re sharing softer medical information in an attempt to find better health solutions. Take for example. It’s not only a platform that allows life sciences firms to connect with patient populations and patient advocacy groups, but its patient forums serve as a means for patients to share their stories, trade tips about emerging therapies and discuss how to improve their experience with a particular therapy by better managing side effects.

There are powerful and informative conversations happening among healthcare consumers, with Millennials leading the charge, and now it’s time to make sure we’re listening.’s raison d’être is a fundamental belief that patients’ contributions to medical progress have been traditionally undervalued, and that significant progress moving forward will come as a result of better involvement with consumers and valuing their contributions.

Your consumers are sharing…do you care enough to truly listen?

  • Dan Densen

    Dan Densen is a New York-based Senior Associate at Prophet, a brand strategy and marketing consultancy. For more of Prophet’s thinking on pharmaceutical sales and marketing and other industry-related issues, visit healthcare


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