The world is divided into two types of “digital” people. One type is digital natives who grew up with the internet and grew up living their lives online. The other type is digital immigrants. They are the Silent Generation, baby boomers, Generation X and the first years of the millennial generation who grew up before the internet became part of everyday life.

It’s clear that as healthcare becomes more of a digital experience, millennials born in the 1990s and Generation Z are enthusiastic, natural users of new technology. But what about digital immigrants? How well are they adapting to the digital experience in healthcare? How do digital immigrants access care?

There is also the question of how well healthcare providers are adopting technology and providing a good digital patient experience. Many of these healthcare professionals are digital immigrants. Some traditional healthcare providers, as well as upstarts who are working to disrupt the industry, have been quick to embrace digital advancements, but many have been slow to adopt the technology. Those that have not will need to move quickly if they want to  meet the needs of healthcare consumers who are increasingly becoming comfortable using digital tools and channels to engage in their care.

Defining The Generations

According to Pew Research, Millennials are about to overtake Baby Boomers as the largest generation, with both having about 73 million members in 2019. Here are the dates that define the generations currently living in the US today:

  • The Silent Generation. Born between 1928 and 1945, the Silent Generation is declining and is projected to dwindle to just 12 million members by 2028.
  • Baby Boomers. More than 76 million baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. Baby Boomers will all be age 65 or older by 2029. Boomers currently range from age 55 to 73.
  • Generation X. One of the smallest generations, Gen Xers were born between 1965 and 1980. Gen X was the last generation brought up without the internet, with most not using the internet until they were in their 20s[KB1] .
  • Millennials. Named because they started to become adults at the dawn of the 21st Century, the millennial generation was born between 1981 and 1996. Older millennials grew up without the internet in their early years, while younger millennials began using the internet early in life.
  • Generation Z. The youngest generation, born in 1997 and later, Gen Z is the first generation born after the internet became part of everyday life.  The oldest members of Gen Z are just entering adulthood and are not large consumers of healthcare services.

Digital Expectations

Few would be surprised to see that millennials are currently the most likely to adopt digital technology for healthcare. A recent study of patients under 40 years of age by Jefferson Health in Philadelphia showed:

  • 92% expect two-way electronic communication with their providers
  • 83% expect to be able to access all their patient information online
  • 78% expect to have total access to family members’ inpatient charts
  • 71% expect providers to have online scheduling and offer them the ability to compare rates
  • 65% expect to discuss health-related topics and compare providers via social media

Another study by Accenture shows that patients who are age 65 and older are not far behind in their desire to use digital technology for healthcare:

  • 72% get reminders to do things to maintain their health
  • 71% want virtual visits for after-hours appointments
  • 63% expect technology to give them daily support to manage ongoing health issues
  • 59% would use technology for classes and online health education
  • 59% would use artificial intelligence (AI) to get information after hours
  • 54% would use AI to help them find a physician, identify a specialist or book an appointment

When asked why they are willing to embrace the use of AI, 63% said it was because of convenience and anytime availability, while 36% said they wanted to avoid a trip to the doctor’s office.

A 2019 study conducted by OnePoll and commissioned by DocASAP showed that more than 23% of boomers (ages 55 years and older) prefer to schedule with their healthcare providers online, compared to 63% of those ages 45 to 54, and 58% of people between the ages of 35 and 44.

The study also showed that more than 23% of boomers would use a video consultation if they could not schedule an appointment with their primary care provider, and nearly 24.5% would use a video consultation even if their provider was available.

Satisfaction Varies By Age

The DocASAP survey also showed that the degree of satisfaction with current digital tools varies by age. When asked to rate the digital tools offered by their healthcare providers, nearly 70% of respondents age 55 and older said the tools are very helpful or somewhat helpful. People between the ages of 45 and 54 were more enthusiastic, with 95% rating their providers’ digital tools as very helpful or somewhat helpful.

In contrast, 67% of people between the ages of 25 and 34 years old ranked their providers digital tools as very helpful or somewhat helpful. Nearly 16% of respondents in that age group said digital tools were neither helpful nor unhelpful, the highest percentage of any age group that was surveyed.

How Boomers Access Digital Healthcare

While many think that boomers don’t know much about the internet, the fact is that a higher percentage of boomers use the internet every day more than any other age group, according to Forbes magazine.

What boomers don’t do as often as millennials is use social media. About 86% of millennials say they use social media, compared to 59% of boomers, according to a Pew Research Center study.

Millennials and Gen Xers are most likely to use smartphones, according to the Pew study, while boomers are less likely. The three generations are similar when it comes to using tablets.

  • Own a smartphone:
    • Millennials – 93%
    • Gen Xers – 90%
    • Baby boomers – 68%
  • Own a tablet:
    • Millennials – 53%
    • Gen Xers – 55%
    • Baby boomers – 52%

Providers Are Not Ready

While boomers are ready to adopt digital technology, most have not had the opportunity. For example, while an Accenture study shows that 59% of people over the age of 65 would use artificial intelligence to obtain medical information, fewer than 1% have had the opportunity to do so.

Projections from the U.S. Census Bureau says that by 2030, the number of adults over the age of 65 will outnumber children in this country. At the same time, we are facing a growing shortage of primary care physicians and specialists.

Telehealth and other digital care options will go a long way toward easing the burden on an already strained system and will help satisfy boomers’ desires to use digital technology for more convenient and efficient medical care.

Next Steps

Hospitals and physician practices can meet the needs of all generations of patients by adopting digital technology and tools. Learn how DocASAP can help.

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