Generations: Embracing Technology and Engaging Each Other

by Jon Mertz, Member, HIMSS Social Media Task Force

At any given time, there is a span of six generations in our society.  Change seems to accelerate with each passing generation. Although many innovations in healthcare have occurred over the current six generations, the basics remain. They involve office visits and silos of paper.

This is changing, too, as electronic health records (EHRs) are increasingly being used and combined with many, many more apps for personal care that track steps, weight, calories, sugar levels, etc., and the list grows extensively from here.

All of this is positive, yet adoption and use is lagging. There are many conversations about engaged patients or e-patients, and more mainstream articles now appear about patients embracing technology to better manage their health.

Human interaction is an important element that brings each generation forward and raises the level of usage and understanding of what these changes could (and should) all mean. Each generation brings a unique set of traits and experiences. It is important to share each perspective and to offer a hand in bringing understanding and usage forward.

Generational Characteristics: Just look at the mix of generational differences:

Generations photo 1

It is an amazing mix that should work together to advance healthcare.

Over the past few weeks, I asked individuals from each generation to give me their thoughts about their experiences with healthcare technology. It is a diverse mix from retirees to students. Outlined below is a glimpse into some health IT insights across the generations.

GI Generation (Before 1936)

“One of our physicians suggested we look at their portal. He thought we might find it useful and save some time. Sign-up was very simple. At first, I was a little skeptical in doing this versus using the telephone. This is a challenge at times in navigating through the switchboard. Using the portal has been very easy and has improved our interaction with clinicians.” Eugene Morosoli

Silent Generation (1937-1945)

“I have only used the internet to find out information on illnesses or definitions of illnesses. I found the information very useful. I would be happy to have a program to organize my appointments and medical records. The technology has to be very user friendly or I don’t want to be bothered.” Ione Blanks

 Baby Boomers (1946-1964)

“Does Web MD count as a portal? Otherwise, neither my husband nor I have used any kind of health care technology application.” Kathy Johnson

Generation X (1965-1976)

“At my last physician visit, I was given instructions on how to register for their new patient portal. To my knowledge, based upon the information I was given, this portal would be used to send an e-mail message to notify me that my lab and test results were ready to be viewed on the patient portal.  I quickly realized that this was not the only information now available to me. I had access to a wealth of information that included physician’s chart notes, blood pressure results, current prescriptions and family history notes. In the past, I have found myself trying to remember parts of the conversation with my physician or what something was named and now it is all available at my fingertips!” Charlotte Keating

Millennial Generation (1977-1993)

“I think it has its pluses and minuses. On one end, technology is great for keeping the medical record and having all the information in one area instead of searching through records upon records. But the negative of technology can be the amount of information out there for the patient. This can lead to a patient’s self-diagnosing themselves instead of seeking true medical care, which can be dangerous in some situations.” Mike DeWall

 Generation Z (1994+)

“What is done to manage healthcare? I haven’t had to do this yet! I do think that a doctor should have a website with information about their background and awards, as well as being able to make appointments, access prescriptions, and pay bills.” Brooke Olenski

This obviously is not a scientific sample, but it does highlight an important point. Although the generations are unique, healthcare flattens the barriers. We are more similar than we think. By lending a hand and engaging in a conversation, we can begin to leverage the different generational perspectives and remove the barriers to using technology in the care of our health.

Generational Experiences: Conversational Starters: What we need are conversational starting points. Highlighted below are some steps to begin the conversation between generations.

Generations photo 2

We are all human, and we all have experiences.  No matter which generation we come from, we need to begin to discuss our fears, successes, and challenges in how to use, understand, and leverage health technology and applications. Interactions within and between generations is what will raise our health literacy and take us all to a new level of quality in our health.

Taking the Next Step: A Personal Challenge: Over the next two months, identify four people in your family and community network and have a healthy technology conversation with them. Ask them about their experiences. Share your challenges and practices. Engage each other in what has worked and how to approach using the new apps available. Show each other. Sit down in front of a computer, tablet, or phone and begin to navigate and share. After the exchange, ask them to do the same – talk to four people in their network.

These small steps can lead to a giant leap forward for health literacy. Let’s ignite the generational conversations on healthcare.

Join us for this week’s #HITsm chat to discuss trends in patient engagement, an opportunity to engage with other patient advocates and influencers.

Are you ready to ignite a generational conversation on health? What would you add to the conversation?

Jon Mertz is Vice President of Marketing, Corepoint Health. Follow Jon on Twitter @jonmertz

This entry was posted in Health IT News and Developments, Patient-Centered Systems and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Generations: Embracing Technology and Engaging Each Other

  1. I would be careful about pigeon holding patients based on the year they were born. Some retired patients born before 1936 may be quite tech-savvy. The basic question that nurses ask is “how do you best learn information”? Perhaps we should be incorporating the issue of whether the patient wants anything to do with technology into the intake questions.

    We can’t let technology replace the human interaction between the physician and the patient.

    • Exactly! This is why we need to have the cross-generational conversations. In these quick snapshot interviews, the Silent Generation had more experience than many others in younger generations. We need to start talking about our experiences and sharing what we are or are not doing! It is time to put down the barriers and talk about how we are using health IT in our lives.

      Thanks for adding your voice to this conversation! Jon

  2. Brad Tritle says:

    Jon, these comments you collected indeed show that the generations are more alike than we ever give them credit. Thank you for providing this insightful perspective. The same technology platform – enabling simple things like sharing information and two-way, asynchronous communication – can meet the needs of multiple generations. We need more health IT companies to embrace easy-to-use user interfaces that cut across generations – Facebook-like. You’ve just shown the need is there. Great post!

    • Thanks, Brad, and I agree. There is more similarities between the generations when it comes to health IT. We will have different experiences and mindsets and we need to share them. It helps the conversation in moving health IT usage forward and engaging patients more their own health. Thanks for all you do! Jon

  3. As companies develop solutions for wellness and/or health (e.g. chronic conditions management), it is important to think about how it will support and engage consumers in each generational segment. Your characteristics summary can be used to shape how these solutions are packaged, positioned and described to resonate with each generation segment. Thanks Jon. I will be following your task force work.

    • Thanks, Sherri. You make a great point about packaging care programs for each generation. It would help in how they embrace the programs and fit in more with their experiences. Thank you for adding your insights to the conversation! Jon

  4. Deborah Wells says:

    There do seem to be sets of characteristics that many people of a particular generation share. Certainly we are shaped by shared experiences such as those listed in your last graphic. We should tread carefully, though, with generalizations. My mom has a Facebook account. My dad still won’t use online banking. There are many things that go into how an individual learns and communicates, adapts to change or not, what they trust and what they don’t. My two cents (although idioms do seem to stick with one as time goes by) is that for a number of reasons we need to be sure that there are always multiple ways to access information and to communicate. Individuals will gravitate to what works best for them. Personally, I like YouTube, PayPal, and cooking blogs, but it baffles me that people find Twitter to be anything other than one more thing they don’t have time to pay attention to.

    • Agreed. Our experiences and the times we live in do shape our view on things. Our experiences need to be shared across the generations as it can lift all up to better engagement in our health. Interacting with our parents on how they are using a patient portal will help them understand what they can do while also shedding light on how we can use one, too. It is in this sharing of our experiences in health care and health IT that we will raise our health literacy and engagement to new levels.

      We need to start the conversations sooner rather than later.

      Thanks for your insights, Deborah!


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