Social media is filled with stories about how millennials are “ruining” everything from napkins to marriage. But you can’t accuse them of killing healthcare, nor the technologies that support it. Surprisingly, “boomers” aren’t killing it either. In fact, expectations by millennials and boomers alike for meaningful, contextual, empowering information at their fingertips did the unthinkable. It may be the proverbial “irresistible force” that would actually overcome the “immovable object” of a calcified healthcare delivery system reluctant to change. Then a COVID-19 pandemic changed EVERYTHING.
COVID-19 has proven to be an equalizer to our industry. Patients of all demographics have fears about entering the hospital, and rightfully so. Bedside patient experience solutions provide comfort and a unique support system during an unsettling time. But do varying age groups respond to technology differently?
First we should address how we think of generations. We often hear “millennial” describing a teenager or college student. But a “millennial” was born in the timeframe of 1980 – 1996. So the oldest “millennials” are turning 40. These aren’t kids skipping school to smoke behind the playground. They’re the newest Founders, CEOs, or nursing leaders. While we might think of “boomers” as being in their 40s and 50s, they were born between 1946 and 1964, putting the oldest in their early 70s. Generally, people may think of all generations in a skewed way. But what does that mean for technology adoption in healthcare?
While older generations may not adopt technology at quite the same rates as those who grew up with it, they continue to increase adoption rapidly. As technology becomes more user friendly (think of an iPhone’s ease of use versus the MS DOS commands we would input into an ominous black screen), it becomes more accessible to everyone. As that happens, all kinds of industries have been able to enhance customer service.
Remember when airplanes would show one movie on a couple large screens? If you’d already seen Air Bud, you were out of luck. Remember looking up pizza joints in the phone book, clipping coupons, and calling for delivery? Remember rushing to the bank before it closed so you could endorse and deposit your paper paycheck? Those things are gone because technology made the customer experience better, and it was usable for any age group.
It might be true that healthcare has been dragged to this technological revolution due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we’ll find it’s a welcome and overdue transformation. Everyone – regardless of age – wants to ensure they receive proper care. They want to avoid contracting a deadly virus. They want to feel comfortable and safe in the hospital, regardless of what condition brought them there. And they don’t want to feel alone while they endure a healthcare experience. These aren’t generational characteristics; they’re human characteristics.
It’s true that different age groups use technology differently. School children use Zoom to attend virtual classes or Blackboard to submit schoolwork. They might use search engines and news websites for research. They might use TikTok for entertainment and Venmo to pay a friend back for loaned lunch money. People in their 60s and 70s might use smartphones to video chat, send and receive pictures, or find the fastest driving route for a weekend getaway. While there are surely differences in the apps different age groups use, the goal is the same – to make life more convenient, and to get the right information quickly.
The reality that technology eliminates unnecessary steps in a process and brings the right information to the right person in the right way – can be applied anywhere. Airlines and banks did it long ago, and now it’s our turn in healthcare. Telehealth brings answers to people without their having to take time off, find transportation or child care, and wait in a room with other sick patients, just to spend two minutes with a doctor to get a script. Bedside patient engagement solutions can bring services, entertainment, and even virtual visits from loved ones directly to hospitalized patients, making a trying time in their life that much easier. Video is by far the #1 medium for education now, and smart bedside devices integrated to the EMR prompt patients to complete personalized videos to reduce readmissions and give back precious time to our nursing heroes. Something as simple as “meds to beds” – checking in with hospitalized patients before they leave to ensure they have the prescription medications they need before they leave the hospital – eliminates a stop for them on the way home while generating revenue for the hospital. The key to successful adoption is the key to any technology initiative – make the technology user friendly and of a significant benefit to the end user. Technology that provides convenience, useful, timely information and great service will be embraced by any age group, and they’re never going backwards.