Gen Z demands a better online experience

Children’s hospitals need to greatly improve website functionality to meet young parents’ expectations. And that portends the challenge for all facilities.

Recently, I had the pleasure of giving a talk to the Children’s Hospital Association on trends in healthcare and their implications for health IT. In preparing for this talk, I delved into how children’s hospitals were preparing (or not) for their just-arriving customers.

Consumers of pediatric services for young families are “digital natives,” otherwise known as Generation Z. But What I learned in my research leading up to this event was frankly shocking.

Houston, we have a problem

Members of Gen Z have characteristics that will make them savvy digital health consumers. A key characteristic of this generation is their demanding nature – loyalty to a brand must be earned and continually won again and again. Secondly, they are highly dependent on the views of others, such as influencers, but also those who provide ratings of a given service or product.

2021 Press-Ganey report on the consumer in healthcare found that Gen Z is far more dependent on using reviews by others than actual referrals from their doctors. And if a doctor has less than a four-star review – well, he or she will not be getting any Gen Z business.

Gen Z’ers have grown up with a digital device nearly always close at hand. They are extremely comfortable using digital tools to accomplish any number of tasks.

Also remember that this generation has grown up in a world of turmoil, from the September 11 attacks to the pandemic and the existential crisis of climate change. They are savvy, mission-focused and a tad jaded about the generations that came before them. They are not fans of the status quo and seek change in all sectors of their lives. In healthcare, the traditional models of consumer-patient interaction will not be sufficient for Gen Z’ers.

The gap is a chasm

In advance of my talk, I visited 10 websites of children’s hospitals across the country to better understand the level of maturity of their consumer outreach efforts.

Oh, what a mess!

Every website had the requisite stock photos of smiling children and their parents and physicians. They also, of course, displayed the hospital’s mission. But when it came to facilitating actually getting something done, the sites were sorely lacking.

"Hospitals that provide care to some of our most vulnerable patient populations are woefully unprepared for Gen Z."

On all of these sites, I tried to schedule a simple appointment, hoping I would be able to schedule a virtual visit to occur within 24 hours. Not a single site provided that capability.

Next, I looked at their ratings on Google; only one hospital had a 4-star rating. I proceeded to look for pricing on common procedures – say, a CBC panel blood test or an X-ray – and they were nowhere to be found.

Because Gen Z’ers are highly influenced by others – for example, authentic, believable consumer reviews – I decided to take a look at their Facebook pages. Most did a nice job of promoting themselves and their brand on Facebook, and it was good to see some educational content provided as well. But when it came to looking at the reviews of these hospitals on Facebook – oh my, oh my. About half of the hospitals curated their reviews, removing spam reviews (Viagra anyone?), but the other half did not.

One particular example was a very well-known pediatric hospital in the Northeast that had a 4.8-star rating on Facebook. It’s not too surprising that the hospital is well-respected. But nearly all the positive reviews were spam, and the real reviews were by and large negative. How discordant can you get?

Now, I was doing all this research via my laptop – as anyone in my age group would tend to do. However, Gen Z’ers strongly prefer using their mobile phone to get just about anything done. All I have to do is watch my teenage daughter, who conducts almost all her transactions via her smartphone. Honestly, I feared for these hospitals’ mobile engagement capabilities after what I experienced on the laptop.

Looking deeper, however, what I came to understand was that nine of the 10 hospitals I reviewed have Epic’s MyChart as their default mobile engagement platform. I use MyChart quite frequently, and it has its attributes. But using MyChart as a mobile-first strategy for these digital native consumers – what are they thinking?

It became quite clear to me that these critically important hospitals that provide care to some of our most vulnerable patient populations are woefully unprepared for Gen Z. It is not a small gap in capabilities; it is a chasm.

The disconnect is an opportunity

One hospital I reviewed seems to be taking note. While online scheduling was a tad problematic, it was the best of the bunch. More importantly, its website provided reviews of all of its affiliated physicians right then and there when a visitor searched for a provider. This hospital had also recently released a mobile app, separate from MyChart, that provided such features as self-triage, education and home health advice.

"Digital health tools are becoming more specialized to serve distinct user groups."

But this hospital was part of that rare 10 percent.

With future Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT rules allowing consumers to invoke an app on their behalf to get their child’s personal health information, there is the distinct possibility that the majority of pediatric hospitals may be disintermediated by an ever-widening array of third-party healthcare services.

Digital health tools are becoming more specialized to serve distinct user groups. One need only look at the rapid rise of venture capital going into “FemTech” and “ParentTech” to spot the trends.

Is the next big opportunity “PediatricTech”? My hunch is yes, although we are still pretty early into this opportunity.

How will pediatric hospitals respond? Only time will tell. But one thing is for certain: These hospitals will start feeling the pain of Gen Z’ers demands sooner rather than later. If a hospital fails to offer a truly engaging consumer experience, Gen Z will seek services elsewhere.

John Moore is founder and managing partner of Chilmark Research, a health IT consultancy. This blog was published on the Chilmark Research site here.

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