Gen Z and the Demand for Better Experience
Recently, I had the pleasure of giving a talk to the Children’s Hospital Association, on the topic of the current and future trends in healthcare and their implications for health IT. As this was all about pediatrics, in preparing for this talk, I delved into how these organizations were preparing (or not) for their just-arriving customers. Those future consumers of pediatric services for their young families are “digital natives,” otherwise known as Generation Z (Gen Z).
What I learned in my research leading up to this event was frankly shocking.
Houston, we have a problem.
Members of Gen Z have characteristics that will make them savvy digital health consumers. A couple of key characteristics of this generation their demanding nature – loyalty to a brand must be earned and continually won again and again. Secondly, they are highly dependent on the views of others such as influencers, but also those who provide ratings of a given service or product.
In the 2021 Press-Ganey report on the consumer in healthcare, their research found that Gen Z is far more dependent on using reviews by others than actual referrals from their doctors. And if a doctor has less than a four-star review – well, they will not be getting any Gen Z business.
Gen Z have grown up with a digital device nearly always close at hand. They are extremely comfortable using digital tools to accomplish any number of tasks. Also remember that this generation has grown up in a world of turmoil, from the Sept. 11th attacks to the pandemic and the existential crisis of climate change. They are savvy, mission-focused, and a tad jaded about the generations that came before them. They are not fans of the status quo and seek change in all sectors of their lives. Healthcare is not immune and the traditional models of consumer-patient interaction that we have grown accustomed to will not be sufficient for Gen Z’ers.
The Gap is a Chasm
In advance of my talk, I visited ten websites of various Children’s Hospitals across the country to better understand the level of maturity of their consumer outreach efforts.
Oh, what a mess!
Every website had the requisite stock photos of smiling children, their parents and physicians, and of course the hospital’s mission, but when it came to actually getting something done? Well, that was a whole other challenge.
On all of these sites, I tried to schedule a simple appointment, hoping I would be able to schedule a virtual visit to occur within 24 hours. Not a single site provided that capability. Next, I looked at their ratings on Google; only one hospital had a 4-star rating. I proceeded to look for pricing on common procedures – say, a CBC panel blood test or an X-ray – and they were nowhere to be found.
As Gen Z are highly influenced by others, e.g., authentic, believable consumer reviews, I decided to take a look at their Facebook pages. Most did a nice job of promoting themselves and their brand on Facebook and it was good to see some educational content provided as well. But when it came to looking at the reviews of these hospitals on Facebook – oh my, oh my. About half of the hospitals curated their reviews, removing SPAM reviews (Viagra anyone?) but the other half did not.
One particular example was a very well-known pediatric hospital in the northeast who had a 4.8-star rating on Facebook. Not too surprising, they are well-respected. But nearly all the positive reviews were SPAM and the real reviews were by and large negative. How discordant can you get?
Now, I was doing all this research via my laptop as anyone in my age group would tend to do. However, Gen Z strongly prefer their mobile phone to get just about anything done. All I have to do is watch my teenage daughter, who conducts almost all her transactions via her smartphone. Honestly, I feared for these hospitals’ mobile engagement capabilities after what I experienced on the laptop.
Looking deeper, however, what I came to understand was that 9 of 10 hospitals reviewed have Epic’s MyChart as their default mobile engagement platform. I use MyChart quite frequently and it has its attributes, but to use MyChart as a mobile-first strategy for these digital native consumers – what are they thinking?
It became quite clear to me that these critically important hospitals that provide care to some of our most vulnerable patient populations are woefully unprepared for Gen Z. It is not a small gap in capabilities; it is a chasm.
The Disconnect is an Opportunity
One hospital I reviewed seems to be taking note. While online scheduling was a tad problematic, it was the best of the bunch. More importantly, it provided reviews of all of their affiliated physicians right then and there when one searches for a provider. Secondly, this hospital had also recently released a mobile app, separate from MyChart, that provided such features as self-triage, education and home health advice.
But they were the rare 10 percent.
With future ONC rules allowing consumers to invoke an app on their behalf to get their child’s personal health information, there is the distinct possibility that these pediatric hospitals may be disintermediated by an ever-widening array of third-party healthcare services.
Certainly, the trendlines are there for PediatricTech as digital health tools become more specialized to serve distinct user groups. One need only look at the rapid rise of venture capital going into FemTech and ParentTech. Is the next big opportunity PediatricTech?
My hunch is yes, though we are still pretty early into this opportunity.
How will pediatric hospitals respond to this future threat? Only time will tell. But one thing is for certain: these hospitals will start feeling the pain of Gen Z sooner than later. For without a truly engaging consumer experience, Gen Z will seek services elsewhere.