By Dr. Bobbie Kite, University of Denver & Bobby Balke, University of Denver
The emergence of Digital Health technologies (Telehealth, Telemedicine, Virtual Health and Wearable Devices) in the U.S. is becoming rapidly prevalent to serve population health. Digital Health’s inherent ability to accommodate generational norms and values is its key. As people become more mobile, its important telemedicine becomes entrenched so that healthcare delivery and health systems alike can:
- accurately track the needs of the patient,
- provide timely responses which many times are critical and
- serve the greater good by providing data which informs new innovations and more efficient processes.
As a next step large scale participation will be the key to providing adequate sample sizes for more accurate data and to realize new innovations. To accomplish this, we must first explore whether it’s likely that each generation will buy into these technologies.
First, let’s begin with the Gen Z’ers (those born 1995 – 2015) inclination for being “wired,” have largely never known a world without electronic devices that provide seemingly infinite access to information. Smartphones, Wi-Fi and Google are what older generations may consider innovations, but for a population which makes up 24.3% of the collective U.S. population, these have always been part of their life (Grace et al., 2017; U.S. Census, 2016). Digital Health comes naturally to Z’ers, its helps to manage their lives and minimize trips to their physicians. For instance, when a Gen Z’er does need medical advice, they are much more likely to seek attention from a provider virtually.
Moving on, we turn to Millennials (those born 1981 – 1996). Similar to Gen Z’ers and projected to become the largest generation in 2019, they also embrace a life prevalent with technologies a generation that has championed the retail clinic for basic medical needs is also in the technological “sweet spot” we know today. While Millennials weren’t necessarily born into the smartphone revolution, they still were at a perfect age to adapt and develop an affinity for the advances which made their lives not only easier, but innovations that didn’t disrupt their day-to-day break necking pace. Pennic (2019) illustrates:
Nearly one-third (29 percent) of respondents have used some form of virtual care — up from 21 percent in 2017 — and almost half (47 percent) have used a walk-in/retail clinic. Further, consumers would prefer non-traditional methods over traditional ones for certain basic medical needs, including cold/virus treatment (65 percent vs. 48 percent), flu shots (62 percent vs. 54 percent) and checking vitals (59 percent vs. 54 percent).
Given that Millennials are projected to become the largest generation, coupled with the 24.3%t Gen Z population, a major challenge in institutionalizing telemedicine across generations is complete. In turn, as the health industry conversation surrounding social determinants gains momentum, biometric data sent from these wearable devices to data warehouses and/or physicians monitoring patients provides information on not only who may or may not need care in a given moment but also with population health trends. In fact, according to HIT Consultant (2019) who published Accenture Survey: Millennials and Gen Z Embracing Virtual Care Models (2019) state, “Half (51 percent) of all respondents said they use a wearable or mobile app to manage their lifestyle and healthcare conditions and more than half (53 percent) use virtual nurses to monitor health conditions, medications, and vital signs.” But what’s in it for those Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers and are they likely to conform?
Gen X’ers (those born 1965 – 1980) sometimes called the “middle child” of generations, turns out to be a perfect label in this vein because they are incredibly adaptable. For those of us who are middle children or parents of them, we likely understand how adaptable and resilient they must be for their survival. Gen X’ers were young professionals at the inception of Personal Digital Assistants (PDA’s). This generation’s need for convenience combined with their ability to adapt are both compelling for the emergence and prevalence of virtual care. However, the “middle child” generation, or at least those who reside on the side of an old-fashioned need for human interaction, may or may not be as welcoming to seeing a doctor on the smartphones. Let’s split the difference and for those are opposed to interfacing with doctor on a digital device and/or virtual doctor, would still likely find it convenient to don a wearable device since this is minimal hassle.
Last and perhaps the toughest sell for telemedicine are the Baby Boomers (those born 1946 – 1964). It’s reasonable to assume this generation likely has the largest number of people that maybe will struggle with technology. However, let’s remember that at least for the purposes of the topic surrounding telemedicine/virtual health, we really are only focusing on the capabilities of wearable devices which do not require a ton of technical savvy. According to Ryback (2016), “Baby Boomers grew up making phone calls and writing letters, solidifying strong interpersonal skills. Yet as they got older, they actually became fluent in technology and now use cell phones and tablets.” Additionally, let’s also remember that either the Gen X’ers, Millenials or even the Gen Z’ers will be charged as primary caregivers as the Baby Boomers get older requiring more care. If a Baby Boomer would prefer to remain as independent for as long as possible by not being forced into geriatric care, Digital Health may be a critical key. For instance, if a Baby Boomer is unable to drive but needs immediate care, it could either be triggered by a wearable device which transmits the need for care to a nurse who then dispatches medical professionals to the patient.
As with most things, there are always pros and cons depending on how we choose to steer our perspectives. When it comes to these ground-breaking Digital Health innovations, it seems there is enormous potential to serve a large number of people across generations. The generational characteristics may in some ways be generalizations, but that doesn’t mean they are not well-founded. We would venture that even through this short argument it is conceivable the Digital Health benefits has potential across generational populations and a high likelihood of continued adoption and innovation.
Follow up questions to think about?
- Did your generation summary resonate with you?
- Are there ways you might want to engage more with Digital Health after reading this?
- Do you see the potential for new ways to use Digital Health?
With these answers in mind, think about possible cost and time savings.
Facts and Trends. LifeWay. (2018, October 31). 10 Traits of Generation Z. Retrieved from https://factsandtrends.net/2017/09/29/10-traits-of-generation-z/
Pennic, J. (2019, February 15). Accenture Survey: Millennials and Gen Z Embracing Virtual Care Models.
Retrieved from https://hitconsultant.net/2019/02/12/accenture-survey-millennials-gen-z-virtual-care/#.XRx6OExFxpx
Ryback, R. (2016, February 22). From Baby Boomers to Generation Z. Retrieved from