For the youngest consumers, those weaned on wireless, obtaining care that matches their digital interactions isn’t simply a matter of preference as much as it is an obsession. 

However, as payers, providers and drugmakers look to meet rising consumer expectations, there’s one demographic for whom they seem to be behind the proverbial eight ball: Gen Z. 

That much was apparent in the results of a recent study exploring how the healthcare industry measures up regarding various elements of patient experience across various age groups. 

More than 80% of people rated a good patient experience as “very important” when interacting with a provider or plan. Responses ranged from a high of 90% among Baby Boomers, to 81% and 82%, respectively, for Gen X’ers and millennials.

Gen Z’ers, on the other hand, seemingly attached less importance to the quality of their care episode. A comparatively low 69% said patient experience is a very important element. Notably, 15% actually rated it “not important,” suggesting a level of indifference that outpaced the other three demographics studied.

That difference in the data may reflect “a little bit of frustration,” said John Nash, chief marketing and strategy officer for CX software provider Redpoint Global, which commissioned the study of 1,000 consumers aged 18 and older.

While there has been a well-publicized “transference” of consumer expectations from other industries into healthcare, especially as healthcare becomes more digitized, Nash said that phenomenon is felt more acutely by the younger generations.

“They’re just so much more digitally literate,” he said. “They expect the kind of experience they get from Amazon, or with anything they’re using digitally, to be available in the healthcare market. They’re disappointed that it’s not there.”

Such expectations have been gradually rising over the past decade. That’s left healthcare organizations playing catchup with the tech savvy experiences delivered by Amazon and Walmart in retail, Google and AirBnB in travel, as well as Fidelity and TD Ameritrade in financial services.

The recent flurry of M+A activity in the primary care sector serves as an indicator of the potential big players seeking to improve the patient experience. Amazon announced plans this year to buy primary care network One Medical for $3.9 billion, while shuttering its Amazon Care employee health initiative. CVS, which had been interested in One Medical, is snapping up Signify Health instead. Meanwhile, Walgreens Boots Alliance made a sizable investment in VillageMD.

Payers and providers are starting to adapt to a changing consumer landscape, but whether these organizations can catch up fast enough is the question. According to a recent Forrester report, the process is going slowly. The report, which measured member experience with health plans, showed insurers are failing across several key customer experience metrics. 

Redpoint’s survey also suggests mixed results. Many organizations made moves to expand access during the pandemic, like easing the ability to connect via telehealth or allowing patients to receive care in non-traditional venues like retail settings. But only 10% of Baby Boomers chose telehealth as their preferred method of interaction and 33% said they would not use alternative care options from retailers like Target, Walmart or CVS, according to the results.

Impatience with health plans and providers seems to run highest among consumers in the age bracket topping out at 25 years old and their collective disappointment also extends to patient communications. Less than half of Gen Z’ers rated “relevant communications that reflect where I am in the patient journey” from plans and providers as very important, with 21% saying it’s not important. Ditto for several other aspects of provider and plan interactions.

In each of these areas, the youngest demographic registered the highest levels of apathy among the groups studied: knowing that data provided are used to improve the member experience (20%), getting quick responses to inquiries (18%), and having multiple options for communications like text or app (15%). 

Where are they most dissatisfied? When asked to rate the overall customer service experience (CX) from healthcare insurers, 22% of Gen-Z respondents chose either “not satisfied at all” or N/A, meaning that their plan doesn’t offer this or they’re unaware if it does. Baby Boomers were the most satisfied, with 91% indicating they were very or somewhat satisfied with the CX offered by plans. 

Insurers and providers weren’t the only stakeholders that came up short. Forty-five percent of all respondents said they expect healthcare brands and providers to proactively contact them, at the right time and in the right context, to help improve wellness and care. 

But a significant portion of young people appeared to have issues with the communication they get from pharma companies and retail pharmacies. Asked to assess their satisfaction with those stakeholders (outside of messaging related to appointments or treatments), Gen Z’ers appeared most unhappy with drugmakers (30%) and drugstores (29%). 

That’s not to say they’re not well-served. More than three-quarters of the Gen Z cohort said they’re either satisfied or very satisfied that data from providers is relevant and easy to access, and 75% said the same about providers’ follow-up on progress and outcomes. 

Additionally, there were some commonalities among the age groups. Regardless of age, people said they recognize the need to be understood by their provider. More than half of respondents (57%) indicated that the number-one aspect to consider when choosing a provider is how well they understand them as an individual beyond just basic patient data.

“They want to have an experience that’s aligned with that understanding,” Nash explained. “You don’t know — as a patient, member, or consumer — whether someone knows you until they engage with you.”

This leads to another meaningful finding in the survey results: People are willing to leave their payer or provider for a better CX. Lack of personalization and patient understanding (38%) were among the top reasons consumers volunteered for why they would consider changing services, with Gen X and Gen Z citing it the most (41%).

COVID-19 not only caused supply versus demand spikes. According to Nash, it also spurred “pressure points to do more outreach outside of the office and to do this education across the healthcare journey.” That’s especially true in chronic conditions where, it’s been said, 80% of a patient’s outcome is based on things that happen outside of the doctor’s office. 

Organizations, Nash said, “are now looking at, ‘How do I provide an omnichannel experience? I have to follow [patients] not only across their healthcare journey but across different channels.’ They expect that they don’t have to repeat or start over in any one channel. The younger generations, in particular, expect that seamless digital experience.”

Nash said he expects momentum to accelerate as plans, providers and pharma gain more awareness of the social determinants of health. These are a host of factors like transportation to facilities, access to broadband and other considerations to ensure patients not only make it to appointments but have the wherewithal to comply with treatment.

Then, consumers — even the younger ones — will register “more of a holistic experience,” he said. “It’s going to flip, and their expectations will rise again.”