In looking at current technology trends among teens and young adults, it’s easy to see glimpses of the potential future of healthcare. Today’s provider organization leaders would be wise to keep three words in mind as the industry evolves to meet the needs of tomorrow’s patients: search, mobile and social.
Dr. Google, after all, is the de facto second opinion in the U.S., with 87 percent of 14- to 22-year-olds reporting that they research health questions online, according to a nationally representative survey sponsored by Hopelab and Well Being Trust. The top five topics searched by people in this age group are fitness, nutrition, stress, anxiety and depression. Physical and emotional well-being are on equal footing for teens and young adults.
Previous surveys by the Pew Research Center have shown that half of health searches are on behalf of someone else, not the person tapping out the symptoms, diagnosis or drug name. That means teens and young adults may serve as information curators and ambassadors to the online world for healthcare’s biggest customers — older adults who may not be as likely to turn first to the internet for answers. Caregivers of every age are a significant target market for health information and messaging.
Younger Generations Seek Health Info On the Go
Young people also are likely to conduct most of their searches on their phones, meaning healthcare organization websites should be designed to be mobile-first, not just mobile-friendly. Providers can ensure that they are serving both upper-income and safety-net populations by emphasizing the mobile experience.
Asking questions such as “What can we deliver to our customers via text message?” or “How can we write or reformat our material so that mobile readers will stick with us on their tiny screens?” can go a long way toward prioritizing mobility. Smartphone users are also likely to appreciate location-aware information, to help them find healthcare resources at the moment they need them.
Another huge trend among teens and young adults is the use of health apps. This is a generation that is quickly gaining awareness of how to use their phones to take better care of themselves. Two-thirds of 14- to 22-year-olds responding to the Hopelab survey say they have used a mobile health app. Many track fitness and diet, as well as sleep patterns and medications.
Online Expectations Grow for Young Patients
Young people are looking to connect with clinicians and peers. Increasingly, they are using the internet to form and nurture those relationships.
Twenty-eight percent of 18- to 22-year-olds surveyed say they have connected with health providers online via tools such as online messaging, apps, texting and video chat. We are on the cusp of a potentially huge wave of telehealth services, driven by demand from young adults who expect anytime, anywhere access to information. What investments can you make to offer the services and therapeutic relationships those individuals are looking for?
In addition, a majority of teens and young adults (61 percent) say they have read, listened to or watched other people share information about health experiences online. Roughly four in 10 say they have gone online to seek out individuals with health conditions similar to their own. One-third of teens and young adults say they have successfully connected with health peers online.
How Can Providers Grant Access to Health Info?
Perhaps most telling, though, is that 91 percent of respondents called the experience helpful, meaning they likely will turn to that technique again in the future when seeking out health advice. Informed healthcare customers are increasingly gaining access not only to information, but also to each other, using social media platforms.
How might you create opportunities for people to learn from each other or from expert patients who have been through the same treatment? How might you contribute to the public conversation that many people are turning to for health information?
People want to connect. They want to give and receive advice. They want to get better, together. Based on what we are seeing in the technology trends among teens and young adults, search, mobile and social are the path forward. How providers adapt to the changing landscape could very well be the difference between success and failure.