How Gen Zers Are Reshaping The Healthcare Industry

Their embrace of digital health tools and shared data can help the industry pivot to a business model of promoting wellness

Zen pose

This article originally appeared in the World Economic Forum on September 26, 2023.

The global healthcare industry has been very slowly evolving its business model from one centered on caring for the sick to one that fully embraces wellness. Generation Z is about to kick that transformation into high gear.

Born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Zers make up about 20% of the US and 25% of the global population, but so far they account for just 3.3% of total healthcare spending. That’s partly because they are younger and healthier than most. But they also aren’t getting the kinds of healthcare offerings they want, need, and would seek out if offered.

Gen Z takes a much more holistic view of health than older generations, essentially viewing healthcare as self-care, according to more than two years of global demographic survey data and research compiled by the Oliver Wyman Forum, the think tank of management consultancy Oliver Wyman, where I head up the global health and life sciences practice.

For instance, 66% of Gen Z, compared with 40% of other generations, use digital tools such as wellness apps and fitness trackers to monitor their health, our research shows. They are also twice as likely as other generations to share their health information with providers outside of their primary care doctor, including a health insurer, retail clinic, or a third-party app or vendor. Gen Zers are 20% more likely than others to talk about their mental health in the workplace, and 4 in 10 said they have experimented with at least one form of alternative treatment.

In short, Gen Zers are motivated and open-minded consumers who want their healthcare to be holistic, convenient and nurturing.

These shifting generational preferences challenge today’s healthcare model, which is based on treating specific maladies as they arise. The model of tomorrow will centre on wellness, with a focus on prevention, outcomes and overall health.

Companies that embrace these changes now will be better positioned to attract Gen Z patients looking for a broader spectrum of holistic care than they’re getting today. The demand is already there. The first steps for healthcare organizations are to offer better and more ubiquitous data, beef up mental health capabilities, and turn social media from a liability to an advantage.

Data is the key to Gen Z’s heart

Gen Z’s love of all things digital presents healthcare companies with an opportunity to paint a much more detailed picture of a person’s overall health. For instance, 24% of Gen Z survey respondents said they wear a fitness or sleep tracker, 18% use digitally guided workouts, and 17% use an app to record their diet. Nearly twice as many Gen Z respondents as non-Gen Z respondents reported using an app to monitor their overall health.

Critically for healthcare companies, 44% of Gen Z respondents said they would share personal health information in exchange for a more detailed view of their health. While other generations are more comfortable sharing data with their doctor or hospital, Gen Zers are willing to divulge personal health information to insurers, retail clinics and third-party apps, especially for discounts.

Gen Z’s appetite for data is a wakeup call to healthcare organizations around the world. It’s time to break down the barriers that have hindered data sharing for decades. Healthcare also needs to develop more efficient ways of merging patient-generated data with the official medical record to create a comprehensive view of a person’s health.

Mental health is a major priority

Gen Zers believe “it’s okay to not be okay” and see less stigma in seeking help than older cohorts do. Globally, the prevalence of anxiety and depression among all age groups spiked 25% during the pandemic. Gen Z was particularly vulnerable; compared with other generations, they were 83% more likely than other groups to report feelings of anxiety and 86% more likely to suffer bouts of depression, according to our research.

But Gen Z opened the floodgates and made it acceptable to talk openly about mental health at work, with their friends, and on social media. They are active in addressing mental health, with 39% of survey respondents saying they have used in-person or online therapy regularly during the past two years.

The movement to destigmatize mental health must be met with an effort to create a more integrated and holistic approach to care delivery. Some health systems are already embedding mental health professionals in primary care settings. But with some nations facing a shortage of clinicians, it’s also important to use digital tools intelligently, including telemedicine to increase access, as well as apps and chatbots to help serve lower-acuity conditions.

Companies can influence the influencers

Social media is an essential part of the Gen Z lifestyle; roughly 60% of Gen Z respondents said they get their news there. At issue for healthcare: 42% of Gen Z respondents said they rely on social media to get medical information, compared with 20% of non-Gen Z respondents.

That raises the odds of misinformation being consumed and spread. The problem got so bad during the pandemic that US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy was compelled to issue a public health advisory in which he spotlighted social media and the capability for people to spread misinformation with “unprecedented speed and scale.”

Partnering with Gen Z influencers can be a powerful tool in fighting misinformation and building trust with consumers. Healthcare organizations should look internally for nurses, doctors, researchers, and others who can connect with audiences on social media. It requires a different mindset from traditional marketing but that’s vital if healthcare organizations want to help consumers feel empowered to make informed decisions.

Changes like these might seem jarring now but they will soon be commonplace, as the industry increasingly caters to the preferences of Gen Z. Young people won’t be the only beneficiaries, however. Older generations will appreciate many of these improvements, too.