Industry Voices—Generation Z is a game changer for healthcare

Doctor with patient
Generation Z patients are bringing a whole new set of expectations to healthcare. (Getty/wutwhanfoto)

There is no question that technology continues to impact healthcare, altering how patients receive care, communicate with providers and stay informed about their own health. However, members of the newest generation of young adults—Generation Z—are likely to turn the health industry on its head with their unique expectations for how healthcare should be delivered. 

Gen Z has no idea what a rotary telephone is, rarely ever waits in line at the deli and will never know the cathode ray tube—despite the fact that it inspired YouTube, which they use every day.

They are the first generation to be born into a world with the internet, smart devices and apps. As a result, they have radically different views from the older population on what privacy, trust and relationships mean in the digital world.

Think of the way Booking.com acts as a gateway to travel, simplifying the entire reservations pathway—serving up flights, car rentals and hotels, tailored to customer preferences and requirements. With younger generations increasingly expecting that kind of convenience and simplicity, healthcare needs to find its own “gateway.”

Photo of man in a suit
Rick Halton (Lumeon)

New entrants in the market will address the needs of Gen Z, adapting to their demands by delivering virtualized and automated care pathway experiences. For the first time, these experiences will revolve and adapt around their needs, every day, with no need to wait in line, providing instant assessment, instruction and motivation while coordinating a team of care professionals around individuals' health needs.

Swapping privacy for convenience

The traditional approach to healthcare data privacy is, firstly, data are not owned by the individual, but by the physician, and now the provider, in a highly regulated environment.

Institutions are the guardians of highly sensitive content, potentially including personal information, financial information and healthcare data, and, as such, are risk-averse when it comes to data sharing. Any mistake comes with huge consequences.

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Gen Z doesn’t have the same boundaries for data privacy. They have grown up with apps such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Instagram, cementing the idea that sharing their data in multiple formats is normal—especially in exchange for convenience. The risk-reward balance has shifted, with younger generations opting to share data in exchange for a service, whether that’s shopping on Amazon or seeking out healthcare services.

Gen Z accepts those terms because they have never known anything different, and industry stakeholders need to rethink the future of healthcare data privacy for that very reason. Younger generations are much more willing to share their personal health data if there is a clear benefit to them, and the population at large, on the other end.

Convenience at all costs

Convenience is paramount for this new generation—so much so that they are often willing to forgo a personal relationship with their healthcare provider.

Baby boomers—and even older millennials—grew up with the idea that trust should be established between two people when transacting a service. Whether it was at the bank with a teller and customer, or with a doctor and patient, there was a face-to-face relationship. That is no longer the case.

Gen Z was raised on social media, smartphones and apps. These individuals have a completely different outlook on what it means to obtain a service. Most of the time, it can be done automatically with very limited human interaction (if any) and without waiting in line.

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With the rise of online shopping and on-demand apps—for everything from buying groceries to ordering food and taxis or managing online banking—convenience has become a staple. The danger for providers is, if Gen Z doesn’t get that desired convenience, they’ll go elsewhere.

This is an important lesson for healthcare providers: They must make their experience convenient. As value moves to the edges of the network architecture, access to data becomes much easier. There are numerous services offered that can improve individuals’ health. This will all be seeded through technologies and the virtualization of services, such as an artificial intelligence-driven persona that is always available to help individuals with their health issues.

Focusing on prevention, holistic health

While younger generations want convenience with their healthcare, they also want a trusted adviser who can guide them toward holistic health and wellness.

Younger generations don’t want the “old school” style of medicine where they have no input in decision-making. These individuals want to be armed with information from a trusted expert who can guide them toward the right decision.

Gen Z attitudes toward doctor relationships are a deviation from previous generations who likely encountered more healthcare issues, such as the baby boomers. That generation is accustomed to a different type of patient-doctor relationship—one that’s long-standing, where the doctor is the fount of all knowledge and their diagnosis is definitive.

Younger generations also have more awareness of whole-person wellness—not just their acute medical condition but how it interplays with nutrition, fitness, sleep and stress management. This is something the healthcare industry has historically not touched.

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Physicians are sought out for physical health problems, but now there are also health coaches, therapists and self-monitoring solutions—all of which can be connected to through endless online apps and services. From Fitbit to track wellness stats in real-time to genome services like 23andMe, which expose potential genetic vulnerabilities, Gen Z has the means to take preventive care into their own hands.

Whether they like it or not, Gen Z will come to their physician and provider armed with data, information and knowledge unlike in generations past. This is why providers need to continue improving on how best to help patients take advantage of the tools already at their disposal.

Transforming to patient-centric healthcare

Healthcare is still far from a truly consumer-centric experience. While there are some aspects of convenience popping up in the industry, such as online appointment booking, increased pharmacy services (vaccinations, etc.) or text appointment reminders, those services are patchy.

The industry is so huge and entrenched in the old way of working. There must be a transformational disrupter that will come along and completely change how healthcare is delivered. Other services and innovators will bubble up around this transformation, and the old guards will die away—just as they have in other industries.

The internet of things and connected medical devices now form the “edge” of the network architecture. This is where data are produced and then sent into the centralized repository for processing.

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This shift is going to create almost unprecedented access to data for healthcare, and it will also help move the industry away from a physician-centric model.

Delivering patient-centric care, where we capitalize on real-world data and automated care experiences, will be key to transforming healthcare.

We must deliver care as part of the entire patient journey—not just one specific episode at a time. We can make care accessible for patients—including Gen Z—when and how they want it while using data to tailor their experiences and treat them like real customers.

As Jerry Seinfeld once said, “I hate when they make you wait in the waiting room. It says, ‘waiting room’, so there’s no chance of not waiting—and they’ve got it, so they’re gonna use it—it’s all set up for you to wait.” 

When healthcare providers innovate and create completely seamless patient experiences that emulate everyday consumer experiences, will Gen Z know what a “waiting room” is?

Rick Halton is vice president of product and marketing for Lumeon. He has extensive experience in both the U.S. and European healthcare markets and was previously co-founder and vice president of sales and marketing at Chicago-headquartered Apervita. He has also held executive positions at Fortune 100 companies, including Hewlett Packard, and senior roles at Vodafone and Openwave.

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