When a storm is coming you can feel it in the air, and the stormy forecast for millennial health suddenly has everyone on high alert. Still in the midst of transitioning to value-based care, the healthcare industry could face unexpected turbulence adapting to increasingly poor millennial health and its related economic downpours.

A recent study from the BlueCross BlueShield Association notes that millennials — who are currently in their 20s and 30s — are seeing their health decline faster compared to previous generations. They’re getting sicker earlier in life, and their poor health will have costly, long-term consequences. Representing the largest segment of the labor force, millennials’ productivity, employability, and wellbeing affect business growth as well as the security of their families and the strength of their communities. (The Economic Consequences of Millennial Health)

Hypertension, high cholesterol, major depression, and hyperactivity are all prevalent conditions among millennials that could soon cause mortality rates to climb by more than 40% compared to the Gen X population, according to the authors. With such heavy health burdens, millennials will ultimately need more services, costing 33% more than Gen Xers at the same age.

Additionally, the report cautions that behavioral health diagnoses are accelerating at an unprecedented level. Major depression has increased 31% among millennials in the past three years alone. Behavioral health conditions can also have a compounding negative impact on physical health issues, so they’re especially worrisome.

If the trend continues as is, poor health will lead to unemployment, slower income growth, and a per capita income reduction of $4,500 per year compared to Gen X. Then it becomes a vicious cycle of economic struggles and exacerbated health conditions for millennials. This anticipated “health shock” could be game changing for an entire generation, causing ripple effects on the overall state of the economy.

The market must respond now

The good news is that there’s still time to bend the trend. Most of the health issues driving this storm are currently in their early stages — ripe for preventive programs and (less costly) upstream interventions. By acting urgently, some of the cumulative effects of millennials’ health issues can be avoided in the future.

Given such a bleak generational outlook, market leaders have some work to do. The first order of business is to assemble a meaningful cache of data on millennial groups and identify opportunities for health interventions. Knowing these folks might not have much history stored in the EMRs of traditional healthcare settings, data crunchers will need to tap into outside sources as well.

[Related reading — Interoperable Claims Data: Not Just a Pie in the Sky]

Next, in what is likely the much bigger challenge, stakeholders have to find the best way to engage millennials on an individual level. A big-fisted blitz won’t be enough. To reach this generation, programs must be highly personalized and messaged in such a way that they actually influence behavior. Millennials are not easily swayed, and they do their research!

[Related reading — The Elephant in the Room: Patient Engagement)

As we’ve said before, millennials are also notoriously skeptical of the health system and won’t be satisfied with traditional (read: dated) engagement strategies like phone calls and clunky patient portals. They want convenient options that are delivered seamlessly and made available pretty much anywhere. They also want great service that rivals that of Amazon.

No doubt the strategy to address millennial health given this forecast will be a significant investment.

[Related reading — How to Prepare for the Rollercoaster of Generational Care]

Our Take: Millennials are demanding more from every aspect of the healthcare system and the forecast predicts high utilization. Stakeholders must respond to millennial needs now with short-term fixes as well as long-term strategies. Failure to address the decline in millennial health — in a way that appeases millennials’ appetite for convenience and customer service — will be a costly mistake.