Amid all the hurdles of meeting today’s healthcare IT challenges, new ones await. In the future, consumers won’t need to be prodded to engage with their healthcare providers—they’ll be demanding it.

Anticipating the future expectations of consumers when it comes to digital engagement and relational approaches will be necessary as providers begin to consider how to interact with a new generation.

Perhaps the most challenging to consider are the expectations of Generation Z, which will be the first segment of the culture to be raised immersed in the experience of digital technology and networked communication with peers.

Providers need to be looking ahead to the way in which they’ll provide care to increasingly diverse generations of consumers, says Anil Jain, MD, senior vice president, chief medical officer and co-founder of Explorys, a cloud-based healthcare analytics platform, acquired in 2015 along with Phytel to form IBM Watson Health’s population health offering.

Looking ahead to future care delivery is challenging for most provider organizations because current digitization efforts take so much bandwidth, and financial challenges that occupy current information systems are those of the here and now. However, for providers’ information systems to successfully meet needs in the future, they must anticipate future needs of consumers, Jain believes.

Before joining the Explorys Watson Health leadership team, Jain spent 16 years at the Cleveland Clinic, most recently as senior executive director of IT, where he led several health IT innovations, including programs to support research and quality informatics for population health and created interactive dashboards to monitor the meaningful use of the electronic health record. He continues to practice and teach Internal Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.

Anil Jain, MD
Anil Jain, MD

Jain explored some of the challenges ahead in dealing with future generations of healthcare consumers.

As Millennials mature into adulthood, healthcare providers need to prepare for the next wave of patients—Generation Z. What are some of the characteristics of this population that providers will need to take into consideration?
Generation Z as consumers and patients will be the most connected, mobile and social media- savvy group. They are most likely to own wearable devices and have a keen focus on self-managing their health and fitness. They will expect that technology will be commonplace in the exam room and in the operating room. Generation Z is also most likely to crowd-source for medical information first before consulting medical professionals. They will reward organizations that are genuine and trustworthy, and they will expect their providers to make personalized decisions using the patient’s genomics and environment. Finally, this generation will see chronic diseases as a condition to cure rather than to manage.

With a plethora of devices at their disposal, Generation Z will be the first fully connected generation, which is helping them amass a huge data footprint. What will be the impact of this on care delivery and patient engagement?
Generation Z, with their interconnected devices, will undoubtedly generate vast amounts of data. The impact will lead to innovations around big data storage and analytics along with enhanced data privacy and security. Gen-Zers will fully expect a subset of relevant big data and insights to be shared across their care providers, leading to a fluid delivery and patient engagement model. This model is partially automated through rules and cognitive insights and partially staffed to provide virtual coaching, feedback and to face-to-face medical visits only when necessary. Generation Z is likely to form spontaneous groups with others who have similar conditions, forcing innovations around optimal patient engagement models.

What will be the implications for patient-generated records, and how can providers prepare for incorporating new sources of information into their records?
Providers will need partners and solutions to create the interface between the big data coming from patient-generated records and the insights that can be drawn from them. Additionally, solutions are needed to incorporate the insights into electronic health records and make them available within the medical decision-making process. Providers should begin to evaluate the appropriate manner in which patient-generated data can be incorporated by considering usability, interoperability, structured vs. unstructured data, role in decision support, sensitivity of the data and so on. Existing standards should be utilized to represent patient-generated data when available. Providers should push their health IT solution partners to work within the standards.

What are some of the practical challenges associated with dealing with patients from Generation Z?
Information overload may be a reality if there is not a balance between the data being generated by Generation Z’s devices and the expectations of how that data is used. When the data from the devices signals an intervention, providers will be challenged to provide trustworthy patient education that will resonate with Generation Z. Patients of Generation Z will expect interactive, personalized information to be delivered right when they are ready to consume it. Moreover, Gen Z patients are likely to choose their next physician through crowd-sourcing the online opinion of their “trusted network” rather than seek traditional ratings or consult friends and family. The opinion of the physician is likely to be influenced by how digitally connected and engaged the provider is, just as much as their training, experience and bedside manner.

If a shift in how providers treat Generation Z is required (from patient to consumer), what can providers do to adapt and be ready? What are some of ways technology can help?
Providers must start to develop an interactive online presence, promoting trustworthy, curated content through social media platforms. If possible, they should provide greater transparency around services and pricing. Additionally, providers should educate staff about the unique engagement styles of Gen Z. Providers should utilize mobile applications that help patients engage with care teams and obtain medical information through personal coaching (perhaps through cognitive solutions). Virtual visit technology should be employed when an actual physician is required, and providers should find ways to streamline the actual face-to-face encounter process.

With the increasing use of mobile technology by these patients, what are the security and privacy issues that providers will need to grapple with?
Generation Z has the same expectations of security with regards to mobile technology as other generations, but their growing use of Instagram and SnapChat over Facebook and Twitter in social media reveals that they may have a shifting attitude on privacy and sharing. They prefer to share information over smaller curated groups rather than broadcast ideas and personal thoughts with the world. Personal privacy may be much more absolute among Gen Z with the expectation that they themselves will decide when and with whom to share. Providers who successfully use mobile technology and utilize platforms for smaller communities on social media may be very effective at engaging Generation Z.

What are three or four steps that providers can take to improve their technological readiness for engaging these patients?
Provide an interactive social media experience to members of Gen Z as health consumers rather than as patients. Gen Z is going to be healthier, and will seek information from trusted sources to keep themselves healthy.

Provide a mobile application that ties health and wellness with disease coaching and streamlines access to virtual care when wanted and physical care when needed.

Provide education and device training for the health care team to promote the most appropriate uses of wearable devices. Explain how to obtain data from the devices and how to analyze data for patterns that may signal a need for intervention.

Work with established health IT partners who can help implement connected mobile health care solutions that leverage the social media savvy, and data-intensive consumers to create a differentiated, competitive advantage in your market.

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