An analysis of U.S. employee web searches for healthcare services showed that millennials search more frequently for anti-anxiety meds and women use specific medical terms while men tend to generalize.
The study was performed by Castlight Health, which sells a healthcare service search engine for corporations, including Walmart, Google, Comcast, Kraft and Honeywell.
Corporate employees use the search engine to find healthcare price information and benefit availability under a specific plan; companies use the search data to tailor their healthcare benefit plans and optimize spending.
Data scientists from Castlight culled more than 1,000 search terms from September 2013 through August 2014 that included more than a million employees between 18 and 64 from 35 of its Fortune 500 customer corporations.
The study removed the most common searches, such as "cold", "flu", or "new doctor visit", for example. Instead, the data focused on distinctive searches as a way of better understanding employees based on age, gender, region and search time of day.
Interest in dental care and anxiety medications skew heavily toward Millennials or Gen. Yers (those born in the early 1980s to the early 2000s).
In general, Millennial men and women across the country search for "Anxiety Disorders" 1.5 to 2 times more often than on average. And, "Anxiety Disorders" is the most distinctive search term for women 20-24 in the Northeast.
Why Millennials search for anxiety meds more often than other generations is not entirely clear, according to Dr. Jenny Schnieder, an internal medicine physician and Castlight's chief data scientist.
She noted that the Millennial generation has a reputation as needing constant praise and recognition -- something workers in that age range may not always get. "And, that could lead to that response," Schnieder said.
For Millennial men between 20 and 24, "dentists" is the most distinctive search in almost every region. In general, Millennial men and women across the country search for dental care two to five times more than Castlight's average across all age groups.
For employers seeking to attract young workers, they may want to consider how they structure and promote benefit programs for dental care and behavioral health, Castlight said.
The data also showed women and men shop for health care differently, with women using very specific medical terms and men using blunt searches. Women tend to search using phrases such as "laparoscopic fibroid removal," where men used terms like "rash" and "shoulder"
Women's search patterns indicate interest in clarification on complex medical terms, while men make more use of natural language search capability to address a specific health problem, the research showed.
For example, women were 20% more likely to search for "dentist," whereas men were 50% more likely to search for "tooth," Men were more likely to use terms such as "hand," "knee,"or "shoulder;" women were almost twice as likely to search for "orthopedist" or "orthopedic surgeon."
"There have been studies on gender differences in health information seeking behavior. They all say the women are more frequent searchers and they search for specificity," Margo Coletti, director of Information Services at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, wrote in an email reply to Computerworld.
Coletti speculated that the specificity of search terms used by women may be related to their roles caretakers in a family.
Men were also more likely to shop for healthcare services late at night. While daytime searches were common -- 80% were done between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. -- younger men were almost three times more likely to do searches from midnight to 5 a.m.
Family planning and family care topped the list of healthcare searches among all U.S. workers, but there were notable regional nuances that reflected differences in timing and delivery method of childbearing, the data showed.
Women between 20 and 24 had distinctive searches tied to family planning, with "birth control" being most distinctive in the Midwest, Pacific West, and South Atlantic.
In the Midwest, Mountain West and South Atlantic areas, distinctive searches for maternity occurred sooner -- in the 25-to-29 age group compared to the 30-to-34 age group for women in the Northeast, Pacific West, and in the South Central.
The term "midwife" was a distinctive search only among younger women in the Midwest and "vasectomy" was a distinctive search term for men aged 30 and over around the country.
Alternative medicine, such as such as acupuncture and massage therapy searches were more popular with West Coast employees, while in the South East and Central Southern regions, searches for weight loss and obesity-related health issues were more prominent, the data showed.