Picture a physician.

Older white guy, right? Probably in his late 40s at the youngest? That’s certainly the picture that dominates online image libraries – though the header image atop the American Medical Association’s Twitter feed features a young woman of color in a white coat, greeting the visitor with an expression that conveys hyper-competence and the confidence of having made it through the decade-long marathon of medical school, residency training and a fellowship.

And that’s no mistake. The AMA, struggling to reverse a decades-long trend of sagging membership, has studied the emerging generation of Millennial physicians closely, and they know it’s trending increasingly female – just last month, in fact, the Association of American Medical Colleges announced that for the first time, a majority of American medical students are women. They’re also scarcely more than half white, per AAMC data.

Now, how do you think our typical physician gets his information? He’s probably a little old-fashioned, right? Likes to kick his feet up at the end of the day and unwind  with the print edition of his favorite specialty journal?

While that may have been true a decade ago, DRG Digital | Manhattan Research data show that even older U.S. physicians are increasingly reliant on digital sources of information. Less surprisingly, their Millennial colleagues are far more so. 

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We looked at this youngest generation of American physicians in a new report, "The Digital Native Doctor: How Millennial Physicians Are Engaging Online." Using  data from our Taking the Pulse® U.S. 2017 survey of 2,784 physicians, we learned that U.S. physicians age 35 and under differ in some significant ways in how they access information for clinical practice and in how they engage with pharma companies. These physicians, whom we defined as having been born between 1982 and 1996, came of age in the ‘90s and ‘00s, between the dawn of the Internet Age and the advent of mobile computing. 

Below is a sample of our findings:

  • Millennial physicians are more reliant on digital sources of information. These doctors spend nearly 5 hours per day using their EHRs and another 3 hours consulting external digital resources such as search and websites for healthcare professionals. They source online medical journals and medical reference sites far more frequently than their older peers. They’re far more comfortable using their EHRs. And they use mobile devices for a variety of professional activities (including those related to prescribing).
  • They’re more social online and off, with 82% reporting that they consult with colleagues, whether in person or by phone, at least once a week (only 61% of their peers 55 and up said the same). More than a third of these younger physicians (37%) used social networks and message boards for HCPs on a weekly basis – to 25% of physicians 55+. They’re much more likely to share online video with colleagues, making this a potentially impactful medium for pharma communication – only they’re also much more deeply distrustful of online video content from pharma than are their older peers.
  • They’re much tougher for reps to reach. This generation of physicians completed their education at a time when medical schools were moving to sharply restrict contact with reps, and student organizations were evangelizing deep skepticism of industry. As a result, these doctors are less inclined to meet with reps and feel less reliant upon them for information about medications. They are, however, more open to some forms of remote communication with reps than their older peers.

"Millennial physicians are a little more arms-length in their approach to pharma than their older peers may be," says my colleague Heather Figlar, director of physician and payer research at DRG Digital. “However, we do see greater demand for pharma resources that can help them care for their patients, particularly around patient education and support. So there’s a real opportunity for pharmas that can provide added value to this generational cohort of physicians.”

The AMA has been researching Millennial physicians, too. Among their top findings:

  • They’re not total workaholics, but many struggle with work-life balance. More than their older colleagues might have, they’re trying to maintain space in their lives for family and friends.
  • They face crushing student loan debts, and the resulting financial distress colors their early employment choices, thus shaping their career trajectories. Very few are striking out on their own, as owners of a medical practice, further cementing the shift towards U.S. physicians as salaried employees rather than owner-operators.
  • They’re all about evidence-based medicine and hungry for information. These physicians are comfortable with information technology and look to digital tools for decision support.

Some of these trends and pressure points are specific to the U.S., but others are global. Looking at our Taking the Pulse® EU5 and Taking the Pulse® Nordics study data, we see that Millennial European physicians are similarly tech-savvy and social, relative to their older counterparts. In these markets, 3 in 5 physicians under the age of 35 use smartphones to access professional information during consults, while less than a quarter of their colleagues 55 and older do so.

Younger European physicians utilize their smartphones for quick lookup tasks, with nearly 2 in 3 saying they prefer to access dosing info on their smartphones (to 1 in 4 of those 55+). Like their American counterparts, European Millennial doctors use social media for work far more often than their older peers, but unlike U.S. Millennial physicians, they actually see pharma reps more frequently than do those 55+.

Across markets we’re advising our clients that communicating effectively with digital native physicians demands a fresh approach – one less reliant on push tactics, like ads and reps, placing more emphasis on pulling in these active info-seekers with valuable content and a high-quality user experience.

What Now?

  • “The Digital Native Doctor” report is available to clients that subscribe to Taking the Pulse® U.S. Check the DRG Digital client portal to download the study, or contact your account representative.
  • Want to delve deeper into the info-seeking behaviors of Millennial physicians in a specific specialty or market? Please drop us a note: Digital@TeamDRG.com. You’ll be connected with one of our analysts who can talk with you about our available Taking the Pulse(R) studies, including segmentations by physician age.


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