Healthcare Executives Should Watch More HBO. A young woman immersed in technology.
The low-tech aunt who leans on her for basic digital skills.
Early episodes of HBO’s drama Years & Years reinforce a widespread assumption in healthcare, if not America as a whole: That the two largest market segments, Baby Boomers and Millennials, are very different when it comes technology’s use, value, and appeal.
At first blush, it makes sense. Boomers, the massive post-World War II generation born between 1946 and 1964, were adults when the digital revolution touched down. Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, aren’t exactly digital natives, but came of age alongside digital tools and mindsets.
Zoom in on nuance across behaviors and habits, though, and you start to see that Boomers and Millennials are maybe more alike than “Boomers vs. Millennials” stereotypes lead one to believe:
• Boomers and Millennials are both disruptive. They shirk traditional shopping patterns set by previous generations.
• Baby Boomers and Millennials want to be respected and heard. They strive to make a difference and they vote with their dollars.
• And perhaps most critically (and for many, most surprisingly), Baby Boomers and Millennials are equally tech savvy.
You read that correctly. Boomers actually outpace Millennials on several tech fronts. They are the largest purchasers of tech devices, and more likely than Millennials to use medical portals, online groups, and medical, wearable, and smart home tech tools. Havas’ 2018 Meaningful Brands study found massive growth in the online presence of over-55 consumers, with 68% buying online every month. Put simply, today you’re as likely – if not more likely – to see a Boomer checking their smartwatch step count or asking Alexa a question than you are to see a 30-something doing the same.
The problem is, healthcare and healthtech have missed this memo – at a serious cost.
STALE ASSUMPTIONS = STAGNANT RETURNS
Picture the last TV spot you saw for a senior-targeted drug. Odds are high it included long walks, khakis, and other tired depictions of Boomers who, in actuality, are not their father’s grandfathers – a message Boomers have been shouting since the 60s, but one that falls on deaf ears around healthcare conference tables.
Millennials are a little more figured out. As predicted, Millennials are delaying healthcare, bypassing primary care physicians, taking referrals from influencers, blogs, and friends, and going directly to urgent care, specialists, or emergency rooms to speed up access to care. As in other industries, these patterns are having serious implications for bottom lines. Unlike other industries, these disruptive habits also threaten individuals’ health and public health. Millennials who fail to follow up with a primary care physician forego comprehensive care, setting the stage for hospital stays and readmission. Associated costs and risks, including infection, are increasing as Millennials forge their own meandering path to health.
But here’s what healthcare hasn’t quite realized: Boomers are exhibiting the exact same behaviors – though you’d never know it from those senior-targeted campaigns. There’s a chronic dismissal of Boomers as compliant, less than tech savvy, and forgetful. There’s an assumption, too, that they are too old to manage or even understand chronic conditions. It’s a belief that pervades the industry, is false, is insulting, and is costing healthcare millions.
Of course, this is a very new problem.
HOW WE GOT HERE
As recently as twenty years ago, Boomers seemed to be in healthcare’s corner for life. The industry shifted its focus to Millennials, who were reaching adulthood with a reputation for disruption.
Millennials proved elusive as expected. Then came the blow healthcare never saw coming: Like their Millennial offspring, Baby Boomers, too, began drifting away from traditional consumer patterns and into the arms of more autonomous behavior, leaning into workarounds rather than the system that raised them.
Now that they’re seniors, Boomers are returning to healthcare out of necessity, hungry for solutions to help them maintain independence and quality of life. Along for the ride? Their tech fluency and more spending power than any generation prior – but skepticism, too. Boomers know that healthcare develops tech initiatives and other solutions with the younger set in mind, relegating them to stereotypes and lesser innovations.
Can healthcare see Boomers as the multi-dimensional, tech-fluent older adults they are? Or will it continue perpetuating dusty stereotypes? This is healthcare’s final chance to win Boomers back as a loyal market segment. Miss the mark, and Boomers will reject, drop out, or continue finding “solutions” for themselves.
SO WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?
The way out of this is almost too simple.
In my 20 years in the field, this consumer-centric, product-driven professional tech geek has found that cross collaboration and unity is the winning formula for earning multiple segments – and is the formula missing from healthcare. By cultivating Baby Boomers and Millennials as two separate market segments, healthcare is currently alienating both. Unite these efforts, and outcomes will improve.
Cross-generational healthtech solutions. At a recent consumer healthtech beta program, I engaged with a variety of multi-generational technology users who have more in common in terms of healthcare goals and technology than even they might realize. Because here’s the new reality: Tech is being used by everyone now – regardless of age. We can no longer refer to it as a younger person’s tool, or to Boomers and Millennials as separate segments who interact with it differently.
HBO gets it.
Like healthcare, the premium network serves multigenerational technology users who vary dramatically in terms of exact usage and proficiency (some watch on plug-in devices; others embrace streaming), but who are united by their interest in technology. Unlike the healthcare industry, though, HBO pursues and accurately represents all generations, or market segments, treating multigenerational technology users as equals.
HBO isn’t the only brand seeing the value in cross-generational mindsets and content. Nike’s 2016 “Unlimited” campaign put a fun spotlight on then 86-year-old Ironman athlete Sister Madonna Buder, the “Iron Nun.” Mercedes’ 2017 “Grow Up” campaign had a distinctly multigenerational bent, with short films ranging from “Get a Job” featuring A$AP Rocky to “Be a Good Parent,” about an aging Boomer who grows to appreciate his grown son’s artistic pursuits. Fashion brand Celine created a media frenzy by making Joan Didion its poster girl in 2015.
And then there’s the aforementioned HBO drama. It doesn’t just feature multigenerational narratives, but makes a bold, welcome statement about them, too:
On Years & Years, Millennial Bethany and her Boomer aunt Edith are part of the larger Lyons family, a fairly typical British crew contending with the hopes, anxieties, and joys of an uncertain future. The women are introduced as technology user stereotypes that are specific and familiar: Bethany knows technology – intimately. She has the latest enhancement, integrated brain implants, embedded in her body. They let her interact directly with the internet – where, fed up with reality, she plans to upload her consciousness. Edith’s approach to tech starts as the textbook Boomer stereotype, world apart from her niece. She needs Bethany’s help to navigate even basic functions.
But then Years & Years plays with time, propelling us forward fifteen years. Rocked by political, economic and technological advances, we see innovation cut both ways as the family experiences everything they hoped for as well as everything they feared. It’s in this future that a funny thing happens: Bethany and Edith break from stereotypes.
Bethany Lyons character in Years and Years at HBO.
Bethany sees the ramifications of unchecked technological adoption when a friend’s black market procedure ends badly. Meanwhile, Edith, an activist, begins to realize that that tech is the best way to continue making an impact even after she’s gone.
In the end, it’s not young Bethany but senior Edith who leads consumer healthtech into the next dimension, voluntarily leaving her body and being scanned on the internet. Bethany stays behind, more prudent than before.
By deviating from expectations, Bethany and Edith show that tech users often defy expectation. We can’t assume that one group is tech savvy while another isn’t, because it’s an outdated mindset.
Healthcare needs to take a page from HBO’s book. Instead of offering status quo solutions for Boomers and innovation for Millennials, align the generations and innovate for both. Baby Boomers and Millennials share more characteristics than pop culture has led us to believe. It makes sense. Most Millennials are children of Boomers, and apples don’t fall far from trees.
If we align segments to successfully improve consumer healthcare participation and self-management, we can enjoy the effects of improved care and outcomes and reduced medical expenses – a goal shared by consumers as well as the healthcare industry. We can also avoid such cautionary tales as that in Years and Years, when Bethany’s friend faces a critical health dilemma with no funds or wherewithal to manage it. It’s an extreme and fictional tale, yes, but one that foretells the consequences of healthcare habits gone wild.
Focus on attitudes, not ages. Unite and respect multigenerational users to enact change and spur on loyalty – for the win. Because if healthcare continues to abide by an “out with the old in with the new,” mindset in 2020, it might find itself on its way out.