Gen Z patient talking with doctor.

Study: Gen Z Wants Physicians to Ask About Social Determinants of Health

Est. Reading Time: 3 Minutes

Key Insights

  • A new study shows that Gen Z wants their clinicians to talk to them about the social determinants of health
  • Out of all generations, Gen Z reports being the least satisfied with the current state of healthcare
  • This value-based approach to primary care indicates that patient demand for better care will supersede the fee-for-service model


Background: The “Gen Z Effect” on the Healthcare System

Generation Zers, commonly described as those born between 1997 and 2012, are already changing the way clinicians offer care. This is evident in the fact that only 55 percent of Gen Zers have a primary care physician compared to 67 percent of Millennials and 76 percent of Gen Xers.

Essentially, Gen Z is more likely to choose non-traditional forms of healthcare, such as walk-in clinics, over traditional forms like seeing a primary care physician for flu shots (62 percent use non-traditional versus 58 percent who use traditional) and cold/virus treatment (65 percent versus 48 percent).

This trend extends to other generations as well. According to a study by Accenture, 70 percent of patients are more likely to choose primary care clinicians who offer convenient services such as automated appointment reminders. This was compared to 57 percent in 2016. Another popular technology was telehealth. Fifty-three percent stated they would prefer clinicians with telehealth capabilities compared to only 39 percent in 2016.

While patient-focused tech in healthcare may help remove some of the barriers to care as often seen in the social determinants of health, it does not take the extra step of addressing them.

Fostering Open Conversations

A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health surveyed Gen Zers between the ages of 14 and 24 via text message and asked five open-ended questions about the social determinants of health. Eighty-one percent of respondents indicated that they wanted their clinicians or medical team to ask them about the social determinants of health during their visits. In response to why the patients did not ask their clinicians about social determinants themselves, 30 percent said that they were too embarrassed.

Survey respondents indicated they would like their clinicians and or care teams to:

  • Provide information about ways to address social determinants of health during an in-person visit (51 percent)
  • Point them to helpful resources (25 percent)
  • Offer general advice (22 percent)
  • Listen to them (11 percent)

Gen Z’s forward-thinking approach to their care may be indicative of a wider trend as healthcare transitions to value-based care. Despite the fact that social determinants of health can affect clinical care outcomes by as much as 80 percent, only 16 percent of primary care physicians actually screen for them.

So, how can physicians take a proactive role in addressing Gen Zers’ social determinants?

Providing Tools and Resources

Most practices stop at screening for social determinants of health, but there are plenty of commonly overlooked technology platforms and other resources that can help you reach disadvantaged patients:

  • Telehealth. Some patients’ needs don’t necessarily require you to see them in person, or they may not have reliable transportation. These are perfect opportunities for telehealth, which can potentially close care gaps, refill prescriptions, manage chronic conditions, and more.
  • Patient education. Knowledge can mean the difference between a quick virtual visit or an expensive and unnecessary hospital visit. Studies show that, depending on the patient’s age, providing information about non-emergency department treatment options could prevent up to 27 percent of future hospital readmissions. Also, making these materials available in multiple formats and languages is essential to equitable care.
  • Mobile apps and patient portals. In addition to saving you and your staff time, mobile health apps and portals can help patients conveniently access their health information, care plans, and referrals 24/7. Accessibility makes it easier for patients to stick with their care plans.
  • Tech solutions. What does your electronic health record (EHR) do for you, exactly? What kind of data does it pull? Do you need to do all of the legwork, or does it automatically aggregate that data for you? Super-charging your tech stack with robust data aggregation tools can provide you with a comprehensive view of your patient. Better yet, integrating these tools allows for a seamless patient experience and continuity of care.


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