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Malcolm X said, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” It’s sage advice that many clinicians might agree with. After all, a patient’s behaviors and choices today influence their well-being in the future.

But what about provider preparation? Have hospitals and private practices laid the groundwork for tomorrow’s success? Effective medicine goes beyond staying current on new therapies and breakthroughs. Healthcare delivery matters too – and delivery models are leaning more and more toward telemedicine. Yet many providers are still resistant to adoption.

Dinosaur Providers, Digital Patients

Interestingly, patients seem to be ahead of providers on the technology curve. Patients have quickly embraced the digital age, rating doctors on consumer sites, seeking advice in physician forums and ordering medications from international pharmacies.

They’re also turning to telemedicine, even when it means turning away from their usual doctor. Numerous surveys and studies have found patients rate their virtual visits highly, such as a telemedicine survey in The BMJ that found 98 percent of patients would be interested in future telemedicine visits and 99 percent would recommend telemedicine.

Yet providers – from small town private practices to major health systems to specialty groups – often fail to offer even rudimentary digital conveniences. The healthcare system is still a dinosaur when it comes to patient engagement. The Council of Accountable Physician Practices says only 15 percent of patients can email a doctor; and though many of us receive text notifications from airlines, pharmacies and even our pets’ veterinarians, only 9 percent of patients receive any type of text notification from their doctor.

And that hints at a significant problem, given that most patients under 40 have digital expectations.

Generation Next

Millennials (born 1981-1996) and Generation Z (1997-2011) either grew up or came of age in a digital world. Generation Z, who will become the world’s largest population this year, have never known anything but one-click ordering and customer-centric companies that cater to their preferences. While Millennials are often depicted in the media as the perpetual twentysomething, the oldest are about to turn 40 – and many have kids (Generation Alpha) who are growing up immersed in mixed reality games, online classrooms and AI instructors.

Many Millennials also have aging Baby Boomer parents with accelerating health issues. As the largest generation in the United States, they are becoming the dominant healthcare decision makers for themselves, their children and their parents – and the current healthcare system is not working for them:

Which begs the question: are providers ready for these upcoming patients?

Why New Generations Demand Telemedicine

Consider these two scenarios.

Matt, 31, is receiving a bone marrow transplant for Hodgkin disease. Currently he’s treated by a hospital 90 miles away. Because his immune system is compromised, he faces a risk of infection and his medication might increase his blood pressure. Despite Matt’s persistent fatigue, his doctor advises him that he’ll need to drive to the hospital every day for temperature and blood pressure readings.

Dreading the daily hours of travel, and worried about exposure to hospital germs and bacteria, Matt finds a provider who will do surgical follow-ups and review MRIs virtually. The doctor will send him home with a thermometer, blood pressure cuff, and other tools so nurses can monitor Matt’s vitals and intervene if necessary. Matt will eliminate the long drives and the additional risk of infection and recuperate in his own home.

It’s obvious which doctor Matt is going to choose. It’s also clear that more and more young patients will similarly evaluate their prospective providers on their ability to provide remote care.

Consider the patient face of the healthcare landscape in just 10 years:

  • Baby Boomers will enter their 80s and 90s; Generation X will begin their senior years. Older patients tend to consume enormous healthcare resources while often finding it difficult to attend in-office appointments, which makes telemedicine a convenient delivery model for consistent senior care.
  • The first Millennials will approach their 50s. As they begin to need more frequent appointments for chronic conditions, their preference for telemedicine will likely intensify. Generation Z, now arranging pediatric care for their children, are also likely to search for virtual options.
  • Generation Alphas will start college and take on more responsibility for their own healthcare – no doubt expecting virtual modalities in the student health center, just as they’ve grown up with in class.

Patient Retention for Tomorrow

The future is undeniably virtual – and to attract and retain patients, providers should adapt to their preferences now, not in 10 years. It takes time to optimize a virtual healthcare practice, identify revenue efficiencies and educate patients. By offering telemedicine options now, providers can reduce no-shows, enhance care coordination and improve their own work-life balance. But most importantly, they can give themselves a competitive advantage that will stay strong into the future.

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