Mind the gaps: Generational attitudes toward technology matter

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Two decades ago, most people would have balked at the idea of toting a device capable of tracking their location, collecting data on their buying habits, monitoring their activity levels and interrupting them with “notifications.” Today, smart devices — designed to do all those things and more — are used by more than two billion people globally.

In the health sector, consumer-facing technologies can help health systems and payers reduce costs while providing high-quality care and outcomes. How can health stakeholders encourage their rapid adoption among consumers?

People of all ages are concerned about the types of personal data being collected — and who has access to it.1 These concerns are reflected in our increasingly mobile world: a study of health consumerism conducted in Australia found that a majority of respondents of all ages had data use concerns that extended to mobile phone apps.2

Consumers are not a homogenous group when it comes to measuring usefulness and determining the amount of effort a technology requires, however. Encouraging the adoption of tools that promote wellness requires understanding how different generations calculate utility and the investment required to learn.

The so-called “digital natives” — those Millennials and Gen Z-ers who had childhood exposure to the internet and social media — are more likely than Boomers or seniors to see new tools as having high utility and a low learning cost. Most are also more likely to view emerging health technologies (personalized genetic testing, robotic surgery) with interest.For instance, almost 83% of Australian Millennials are interested in sending diagnostic information to their doctor using a device that connects to a mobile phone, compared with roughly 40% of seniors.

Older consumers, on the other hand, tend to want technology that provides context to their health care interactions and that puts test results and diagnoses in an easy-to-understand format. They also often want tools that help them compare and understand out-of-pocket costs for consultations and tests. Meanwhile, many younger users want digital tools that help handle their health and work-life balance. More than 70% of Millennials — but less than half of seniors and just over half of Boomers — are interested in on-demand, mobile-enabled technologies for managing their health.4

So, how should industry approach consumer-oriented technology?

  1. Be transparent about data use. People in the United States polled about their willingness to donate health information indicated that transparency about data use in the consent forms was the primary determinant of how likely they would be to share.5
  2. Choose incentives that matter to everyone. Making technological adoption a “win” for the health consumer means using incentives that matter, and harnessing curiosity about our inner workings may be a successful strategy. In one study, at least 85% of people in every age group polled indicated that the return of insights and personal health results was the most attractive incentive for sharing their personal data.6
  3. Use a design that is intuitive for all users. Generational biases (‘I’m too old for that, this isn’t made for me”) can create barriers to adoption and use. Technology that works invisibly behind an easy-to-master interface and that has high functionality at all points along the tech sophistication spectrum can be engaging for seniors and Millennials (e.g., the Nest thermostat).

1. Mary Madden and lee Rainie, “American’s Attitudes about Privacy, Security and Surveillance”, Pew Research Center, May 20, 2015.
2. EY Healthcare consumer survey, EY Sweeney. 2015: Australia
3. Ibid
4. Ibid
5. David Kaufman, Rebecca Baker, Lauren Milner, Stephanie Devaney, and Kathy L. Hudson, "A survey of US adults’ opinions about conduct of a nationwide Precision Medicine Initiative® cohort study of genes and environment", PloS one. August 17, 2016, 11(8).
6. Ibid