Readers Write: Healthcare Delivery Must Evolve to Meet the Needs of a Generation in Crisis
Healthcare Delivery Must Evolve to Meet the Needs of a Generation in Crisis
By Bob Booth, MD
Bob Booth, MD, MS is chief care officer at TimelyCare of Fort Worth, TX.
A recent new report from the CDC shows startling trends about the never-before-seen levels of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts among teens.
The findings for teenage girls in the CDC’s 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey were particularly grim. Nearly three in five teen girls (57%) said they felt “persistently sad or hopeless,” the highest rate in a decade. And 30% said they have seriously considered suicide, a 60% increase over the past decade.
While boys generally fared better overall, more than 40% of boys and girls said that they had felt so sad or hopeless within the past year that they were unable to do regular activities, such as schoolwork or sports, for at least two weeks.
The members of Generation Z, born in 1997 or later, are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress and emotional turmoil. While some of this is likely to ease as they age out of adolescence, adulthood is certainly no cure for depression, anxiety, loneliness, and other stressors. Additionally, double the number of Generation Z members report feeling emotionally distressed compared to older Millennial and Generation X groups.
In order to meet the healthcare needs of Gen Z, particularly mental and behavioral health, the industry needs to become more proficient in its use of digital and virtual care tools. However, not all of these tools are equally effective or designed to meet these young patients where they are.
The digital-native generation that has never known a world without the Internet or smartphones expects that their preferred technology will deliver relevant information and an engaging experience as part of treatment. It’s something we can expect to see more of as part of the future of care for younger generations.
Artificial intelligence (AI) can play an important role in care delivery and engagement if the algorithms enable a highly personalized and patient-centric experience. For example, not all young adults are ready for, or want, 50-minute, one-on-one counseling sessions with a mental health professional. AI can accurately analyze and interpret intake screenings, so a patient’s selected care pathway is the most relevant and takes into account their unique health and personal needs. AI can even help guide digital-only care pathways through content and activity selection based on the young adult’s interactions with the solution.
The promise of AI is that it delivers an even more personalized experience as its algorithms learn more about young adults, which accelerates their growth and motivation to improve their mental health and well-being. These engagement-building concepts have been understood and applied in other consumer-facing technology for years. Healthcare is finally catching up, and that’s good for young adults and healthcare overall. It’s exciting to see where this will take us in the future.
Gen Z needs a solution that leverages personal technology to enable access to mental health and well-being at their fingertips. By seeking tech-enabled help from a healthcare platform that is designed for them and understands their unique challenges, Gen Z can develop the skills and resilience to help them prepare for college and beyond.
It’s time for healthcare to look beyond traditional models of healthcare delivery and meet a generation who so badly needs care where they are.
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