In 1991, Neil Howe and William Strauss first described their theory of generations as a four-turn cycle that expresses the attitudes and moods of American cohorts. Today's Millennials, born between 1984 and 2004, are a civic generation -- born during a period of pragmatism and coming of age during a crisis to develop into energetic and active political leaders. In a 2000 New York Times review, David Brooks agrees that young Americans "are returning to an ethos that values group loyalty...restoring community, rebuilding institutions...they are inclined to think collectively."
What, then, does this mean for solving the healthcare challenges of our time? Spurred by reform, the U.S. healthcare system is facing massive change and innovation but still holds on to historical problems including excessive waste, perverse incentives, outrageous costs, a primary care physician shortage, and a complete absence of patient engagement. What role do Millennials play in solving systemic issues in our healthcare system?
The collective consciousness of the Millennial cohort can translate into changes in how and why businesses function. According to a 2013 World Economic Forum report, Millennials ranked "to improve society" as the primary purpose of business. Young investors are pursuing sustainable investing and seeking social progress in addition to financial returns. A 2014 Deloitte survey shows that Millennials want to work at organizations that promote innovation, leadership, and skill development while making positive contributions to society.
This mindset was clear in my every interaction at the recent Forbes Under 30 Summit that I attended in Philadelphia. Here, Millennials gathered to present their startups, ideas, and inventions aimed at disrupting deeply entrenched industries like healthcare. From developing the first incubator for digital health start-ups to building networks of patient communities for improved consumer experiences, Millennials understand the increasing preference for simple, transparent solutions, and they are harnessing technological prowess to create abrupt, influential change in the healthcare industry.
In addition, Millennials are outpacing previous generations in civic involvement and are doing so in ways this country has never seen before. This includes online platforms for local government information and constituent feedback, student groups educating peers on the primary care physician shortage, and 100+ chapter campus networks recommending health policy solutions to their states and regions.
To truly change the industry, we must improve both public and private mechanisms of organizing, financing, and delivering care. Millennials understand this intricate public-private relationship and are able to create change by entering through both doors. This unique combination of social enterprise and political involvement is what makes the Millennial generation so equipped to disrupt the mature healthcare industry for the better.
This is not to say that older generations cannot make strides to improve healthcare as well -- in fact, much of the change we are seeing in new payment models, reinvented company roles and marketing, and data transparency must come from individuals familiar with and experienced in the mature industry and its many stakeholders.
But, as the fastest growing workforce demographic, Millennials can be the generation to improve upon these foundations, to identify opportunities to simplify and reorganize, and to move the industry and its politics forward in ways that previous generations could not. Indeed the activist, entrepreneurial, and tech-focused generation may be just what the doctor ordered.