For many of us, technology has been an evolving convenience during our lifespan. However, the newest generation, frequently referred to as Gen Z, was born into technology. It has become a necessity in their day-to-day lives, and they know little of a life without cell phones, tablets, and Wi-Fi connection. Teenagers and college students have online classes, their textbooks are on tablets, and they submit their school work via internet applications. They are the first generation for whom virtual reality is woven into their daily circumstances, and their healthcare is no different.
As pediatricians caring for this population, it’s important to recognize that, without telemedicine, Gen Z is less likely to seek treatment for illnesses and other medical concerns. If they can talk to their parents, teachers, and friends from behind a screen, why not be able to do the same with their healthcare providers?
The COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated this generation’s transition from in-person care to telehealth. Offering virtual care to this generation of young people is not only prudent for your practice, but it’s also necessary. Simply put, teenage and college-age patients use technology more often and want it to be seamless. We are now in the digital health era, and this movement is being led by younger generations, including Gen Z.
But who are these younger generations, and what do they expect from you, their pediatricians, as technology progresses? Let’s explore!
How Can Younger Generations Impact the Delivery of Healthcare?
Born sometime between 1981 and 2012, Gen Z and Millennials are leading the charge into the digital era. Gen Z comprises the largest living generation, accounting for over 86 million people in the general population. Millennials take a close second at more than 82 million people.
Data shows that young adults are utilizing urgent care centers and telemedicine visits when they are sick more often than they are seeking preventative healthcare from their pediatricians. In fact, a mere one-third of these generations report visiting their primary care provider one time a year or less. These generations are advocating for telemedicine to continue beyond the pandemic and into their routine healthcare visits.
What Types of Visits Can Be Done Via Telehealth?
It’s important to consider the younger generation’s priorities when determining what types of telemedicine visits to offer to your patients. They like to do most things online, including obtaining medical advice. “Dr. Google” plays a large role in their quest to answer healthcare-related questions. When you offer virtual care to your adolescent patients, you decrease the likelihood that they will obtain inappropriate and potentially dangerous medical advice. Telehealth is appropriate for most types of visits, including appointments for sickness, mental health checks, and medication adjustments.
When given the choice, teenagers and college-age folks are more likely to go to urgent care to address their ill symptoms than to utilize their pediatrician. The downside of only seeing a provider at an urgent care facility is that there is no continuity of care or relationship building. Urgent care providers do not know your patient’s medical history the way you do. Although this population is young and healthy now, that will not always be the case. The likelihood that they will have health concerns in the future increases without preventative care. Offering telehealth visits encourages these generations to establish care with a primary care provider, which will help them remain healthier in the long run.
Mental Health Evaluations
Young adults are making great strides in standing against the stigma associated with asking for help for mental illness. We see this in the data reporting the occurrence of mental illness-related diagnoses in the 30-and-under crowd. Studies have shown that nearly half of Gen Z is diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Compare this to just one-fifth of Baby Boomers. A separate study found that nearly one-third of people ages 18 to 25 have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, versus less than 15 percent of those 50 years or older. These numbers indicate that the younger populations are more likely to seek treatment for mental health-related concerns. Offering these types of virtual care visits reduces their barriers to accessing treatment for their mental health.
Starting a patient on a new medication requires monitoring and surveillance — and likely multiple dose titrations. These types of checks can be frequent and inconvenient. Because young people value convenience and efficiency, it only makes sense to offer virtual appointments to follow up on their medication changes. Being able to check in with patients virtually, meeting them where they are, increases medication and monitoring compliance and, therefore, improves patient outcomes.
What are the Benefits of Telehealth for Younger Generation?
Telemedicine offers convenience, efficiency, and affordability to those who need and value it most.
Teenage and college-age patients have school, jobs, extracurricular activities, and other responsibilities. They appreciate being able to schedule and attend healthcare appointments virtually. Plus, telehealth visits mean young adults can conveniently see their provider at home, in their dorm room, or even in their car between school and work commitments.
Again, young people are busy, frequently on the go. They value efficient systems and procedures and have little patience for long waits in waiting rooms and exam rooms. Telehealth makes medical appointments efficient, connecting teenagers and young 20-somethings with their provider in a familiar way.
Not surprisingly, a large barrier for the younger generations in accessing healthcare is cost. This is especially true for young adults who are not on their parents’ insurance plans and, thus, have no coverage. A 2021 survey revealed that 41 percent of Millennials have cited lack of money and being underinsured as barriers to seeking healthcare. On the contrary, 24 percent of Baby Boomers report similar obstacles.