Many people believe that older Americans don’t like new technology, don’t know how to use it, and don’t want it. On the other end of the spectrum, they perceive millennials—the youngest adults—as being born with video game controllers in their hands and embracing any form of technology, almost favoring superficial virtual interactions over deep, interpersonal relationships. Are these myths or facts? Out of these statements, survey results support just two claims: In general, older adults often want to but don’t know how (or are unable) to use the latest technology, and millennials do not value the continuity of care and long-term relationship provided by a primary care physician (PCP) as much as previous generations do. As any organization strives to increase telemedicine adoption rates, it may behoove marketing to emphasize different benefits of telemedicine according to the specific needs and preferences of each generation.
Several surveys, such as the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging, have consistently revealed that the older generations, namely those aged 50 to 80, do indeed want to use telemedicine and are willing to try this new healthcare delivery method. The main reasons cited for their interest include convenience, quicker prescription renewals, and faster service, especially for follow-up visits. However, concerns remain regarding the lack of a physical exam and quality of care, privacy, difficulty with the technology, and usability issues brought about by top-down design methodology that fails to consider seniors’ perspectives or real-world constraints. To compound the problem, most telemedicine apps and devices have been designed for a young or middle-aged user, not seniors who may have more issues with seeing, hearing, and navigating tiny menus and buttons. Overall, since the chief worry centers on whether the quality of care offered through telemedicine can equal that of an in-office visit, seniors may be likely to limit their telemedicine adoption rates until their fears can be put to rest, until they can comfortably use the technology, and until they can meet their own PCPs online.
The youngest generation of adults, the millennials, approach healthcare in a very different way: They hold themselves responsible for their care and are less likely to rely on the healthcare system, preferring instead to research care for themselves and to seek care only when it is both needed and convenient. A survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation discovered that nearly half of 18 to 29 year-olds do not have a designated PCP; they seem to prize on-demand healthcare over a long-term relationship with a PCP. Raised in a world of instant communications, millennials expect telemedicine to allow them to schedule appointments online, access medical records online, receive appointment reminders online, manage follow-ups online—and conduct the actual appointments online, too. Beyond high quality care, these young adults expect convenience, availability, price transparency, and excellent customer service from their healthcare providers, and they define wellness as more than just “not sick”; they identify diet, exercise, and holistic medicine as integral parts of “being healthy.” In essence, they’re trying to reshape the healthcare delivery model—and considering that millennials comprise nearly one-quarter of the U.S. population, they probably have enough influence to pressure the industry into compliance. Fortunately, changes like these should benefit all age groups.
The middle adult population, stuck juggling busy children’s schedules and the needs of aging parents, seems to value convenience and cost savings, especially as their medication use rises with their own age. Over the last couple years, surveys from American Well and Harris Interactive have suggested that these consumers are becoming more willing to switch to a new PCP in order to gain access to telemedicine services.
Interestingly, one feature seems to attract consumers of every age: convenience. As tempting as the convenience is, however, each generation appears to have their own concerns that throttle their telemedicine adoption rates; according to Mercer’s 2018 National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, 80 percent of large and mid-sized employers provide telemedicine, but only 8 percent of eligible members actually utilize the service. As marketing efforts work to raise awareness of the telemedicine services and encourage their use, it may be wise to remember that the surveys reviewed above show that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution; each age group may need to be approached differently with a tailored message that addresses the primary needs and concerns of that demographic.
For now, telemedicine adoption might seem slow, but it will speed up quickly as consumers catch on to the way healthcare can fit into their daily schedules—rather than their daily schedule being dictated by an in-office doctor’s appointment. Someday soon, consumer telemedicine adoption rates will reach critical mass. Here at swyMed, we’re ready for that explosion; are you?