COVID-19 pushed all age groups to adopt new digital health tools, whether they were ready or not. As healthcare organizations introduce and fine-tune virtual and mobile care options, it’s essential to understand where their patient populations see value in digital health – and where they do not – to maximize its impact.

1. More Baby Boomers Seek Care Online

Baby Boomers have traditionally preferred ‘old school’ methods of scheduling care, such as calling a doctor’s office to book an appointment. While these methods remain important to Boomers, the age group saw a definitive shift towards digital patient access over the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to AARP, the number of older adults using smartphones to book medical appointments, communicate with providers, and order prescriptions increased from 28% to 40% in 2020. Older adults also use desktops (29%) and tablets (18%) to conduct healthcare transactions online. 

Additionally, Boomers are considering online sources when selecting providers. A consumer survey reports that 43% of patients over 50 check online provider reviews before selecting a new provider. Twenty percent also said online reviews are “very important” when choosing a provider, rivalling the word-of-mouth recommendations (23%) this age group has historically valued. 

2. Patient Portals Inhibit Digital Access For Seniors 

Patient portals enable consumers to access healthcare services and information in an online location connected to the provider’s electronic health record system. They serve as a provider’s ‘digital front door’ where patients can schedule and manage appointments using their desktop or smartphone. However, consumers can only benefit from patient portals if they have the broadband and technical savvy to use them. 

Senior patients struggle to access services locked behind patient portals. The National Poll of Healthy Aging reported that 45% of adults aged 65 to 80 said they had not set up an account with their health provider’s portal system. Seniors are even less likely to have patient portal accounts if they are Black, Hispanic, or lower-income. Lagging patient portal adoption among seniors could impact access to online appointment scheduling, test results, COVID-19 vaccinations, and other services. 

3. Convenience & Digital Services Sway Millennial Choice in Providers

While Boomers are just warming up to innovations like virtual visits, Millennials have long valued seamless, convenient digital health experiences from their healthcare providers. In fact, a Millennial patient is likely to delay care or find a provider if their expectations are not adequately met. One in four Millennials say they put off preventative care because visiting the doctor is too inconvenient. 

A thin online presence can  also convince Millennials to select a different provider. More than a third (37%) of Millennials aged 23-39 say they would not see a doctor that has no online presence. 

Moving forward, Millennials will likely use a hybrid approach to accessing care. According to DocASAP’s consumer survey, 50% of Millennials prefer both in-person and telehealth appointments, while 32% would prefer in-person only and 17% telehealth only.

4. Millennials Trust Big Tech to Manage Their Health On-Demand

As more Millennials enter middle age, their healthcare needs are growing more complex and costly. According to CNBC, 44% of Millennials born between 1981 and 1988 have already been diagnosed with at least one chronic health condition. The most common chronic conditions among Millennials include migraine headaches, major depression, Type 2 diabetes, and hypertension. 

The pandemic has also driven Millennials to delay visiting their providers:

  • 43% of Millennials have been putting off addressing a health issue. 
  • 35% of Millennials have not had a check-up since the pandemic. 
  • 24% of Millennials with pre-existing conditions haven’t had a check up in the last year. 

If Millennials aren’t getting check-ups despite their chronic conditions and health issues, how are they accessing care? Rather than visiting brick-and-mortar doctor’s offices, this age group is using telemedicine, wellness trackers, and digital health apps from tech companies to manage their health. Nearly half (43%) of Millennials trust health and wellness services offered by tech companies over traditional providers. A third are willing to try virtual care from a social media or tech company. 

5. Stressed Young Consumers to Look for Digital Cost Comparison Tools

Although demand for behavioral health services has increased across all generations, young consumers are emerging as the most stressed demographic groups. According to VeryWell’s Mental Health Tracker, only 42% of Gen Z and 59% of Millennials said their mental health was “good” or “better” over the last 30 days. In comparison, 76% of Boomers and 65% of Gen X report having good mental health. 

The same report also reveals that 1 in 4 young adults cite financial issues as their number one stressor. It thus comes as no surprise that young consumers are especially stressed about healthcare costs. More than half (60%) of Gen Z and Millennials from a consumer survey indicated that they’re more stressed about the financial aspect of care than the clinical side. 

Finance-related stress is manifesting as a heightened desire to view and compare healthcare costs online. A whopping 83% of Gen Z/Millennials say they ask their providers about healthcare costs before receiving treatment, compared to 63% of Gen X and 50% of Boomers. As new price transparency rules take effect across the industry, 70% of young adults plan to view lists of standard healthcare prices when making care decisions.

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