Yes, the baby boom generation continues as a potentially big problem for health care, as the throngs of boomers get older and sicker and, at the same time, reduce the size of the health care workforce.

While the aging boomer challenge might seem more immediate, a new survey reinforces the possibility that the millennial generation threatens to force an even more fundamental — and rapid — change in the way health care is provided.

The survey, conducted by Nuance Communications Inc., shows that those people roughly of millennial age use online ratings and their social networks for selecting a physician at greater rates than do the two earlier generations, Gen Xers and boomers.

For example, even now when the availability of online ratings of physicians is somewhat limited, 18 percent of those ages 18–24 and 24 percent of those 25–34 use such ratings for choosing a doctor. For groups 35 and older, the percentages range from 7 percent for retirees to 17 percent for those 35–44. 

No surprises there, really.

And millennials, of course, are more likely to share their experiences with their peers, be it via Snapchat, Facebook or text. "Clearly, they're using social media," says Tony Oliva, M.D., national medical director for Nuance.

Other factors come in to play. Like the boomers, millennials have the power of numbers. The U.S. Census Bureau shows that millennials, those born between 1982 and 2000, total 83.1 million people, which now is greater than the boomers' total population of 75.4 million people.

But combining millennials' numbers, inclination to share, willingness to use the Internet for research with the growing transparency taking place in health care, and explosive change could be coming.

Already, outcomes data are becoming available that weren't before. Oliva says that the detailed surgery ratings unveiled this summer on the ProPublica website should not go unnoticed. "I really think that’s a game changer," he says. "This is the first time [physicians] have seen their names in lights."

And ProPublica is working with Yelp to find more ways to rate health care, while more health systems are publishing physician ratings on their own websites.

Millennials are more likely to use that information going forward and, once that ball gets rolling, there will be no stopping it.

Some physicians think this is a fad that will go away, but it won't, Oliva says. "This is just going to accelerate," he says.