Gen Z and healthcare: Don’t panic!
A few weeks ago, I urged caution that despite the increasing prevalence of pronouncements that Gen Z will “revolutionize” everything in the workplace, what they actually seem to want is pretty reasonable. In fact, it looks quite similar to what older generations want from their employers: fairness, flexibility, decent pay, etc. And yes, Gen Z will probably even come around to using email when they enter the professional workplace. Imagine that!
Now it’s time to discuss Gen Z and healthcare, as I’ve noticed a huge uptick in articles and emails predicting how “Gen Z will transform healthcare as we know it” and warning that healthcare systems better get ready now to serve Gen Z or face dire consequences. Well, I guess some type of doomsday scenario is possible, but there are a few problems with this type of prediction.
Number 1: We don’t really know anything about them … yet
The oldest members of Gen Z are just barely into their early 20s. Most of them – out of the 90 million in the United States – are pre-teens and teenagers today. There are very few studies of what this generation wants from various industries, and scant information about what they want from healthcare.
Everything right now is an assumption. Mostly these assumptions are based around some type of premise that because Gen Z are all “digital natives” they can only interact that way and will only want digital-heavy experiences. That’s possible, but we don’t know how aging will affect their behaviors and preferences over time. Even the Pew Research Center is urging restraint:
"To be sure, the views of this generation are not fully formed and could change considerably as they age and as national and global events intervene ... we remain cautious about what can be projected onto a generation when they remain so young."
Number 2: They won’t be core consumers of healthcare for 15-30 years
The reality is that most people do not need to consume a lot of healthcare until they start getting older. Someone who is 15 today will need very little healthcare unless something goes wrong. Perhaps some maternity care starting in a decade or so, and the occasional trip to an urgent care, primary care or the ER when the unexpected happens.
Overall, Gen Z’s interaction with the healthcare system will be episodic. The biggest challenge for healthcare systems over the next 20 years is really going to be the HUGE number of Baby Boomers aging into needing more frequent and more complex care. Perhaps, you’ve heard of the Silver Tsunami?
Number 3: What we’re guessing they want doesn’t sound too different from everyone else
A recent article on this subject I read asserted a few things about Gen Z: They don’t want traditional relationships with doctors; they value convenience over privacy; and they want their healthcare to be managed holistically with an emphasis on wellness. As I mentioned before, I didn’t see any specific data that those claims were based upon, so we are making a lot of assumptions here. But you know what? I think they are good assumptions because what generation doesn’t have those same exact feelings, wants and needs?
First of all, who really “wants” a relationship with a doctor? Over time, you start to “need” a relationship with your doctor. This is a complication of aging and/or dealing with a complex medical condition. When I was 18, I didn’t want a relationship with my doctor and luckily I didn’t need one. Today, I need one and don’t want one. Life stages – not my generational preferences – have forced me on that path. Basically, I got older. It happens to the best of us.
Second, what young person of any generation wouldn’t have traded some privacy for more convenience? You might find this shocking, but teenagers and young adults make a lot of bad choices and don’t consider future implications. But we do that too. Even now, how often do you approve the “terms and conditions” for some app without reading them? 100% of the time? I do it all the time, and I’m no teenager. I want that app, and I want it now!
What about the last point this article brought up? A holistic approach to my health and wellness? This Gen Xer says, "yes, please" to that. Again, who doesn’t want that? Furthermore I think most healthcare systems and providers have already made that adjustment. What primary care doctor isn’t talking to their patients about diet, exercise, stress management and other wellness topics? My healthcare system offers walks, monthly classes and events focused on wellness all the time. This shift has already happened and it’s not due to pressure from Gen Z.
Underlying all of this is also a feeling that everything will need to be digital to engage Gen Z. Again that’s a huge assumption, but I would also say it’s another thing that’s actually
common to all generations. Every generation is on their phone, tablet, laptop, etc. every day for multiple hours each day. We are not all “digital natives,” but we’ve got it figured out. If you can offer us something without having to leave our house or call another person, we’re going to take that option.
What the future holds
Overall, there is no need to panic. Gen Z will drive change, but they probably won’t be “game changers” or “revolutionary.” In reality they will probably just help deliver more of what all the generations already want from healthcare. In short, don’t panic!