Although each new century brings its own shifts, encompassing everything from technological to social changes, we have never seen anything quite like the 21st Century. The changes our children and grandchildren face have accelerated exponentially. As a result, some experts refer to this century as the Knowledge Age.
Knowledge Age worker-citizens need to be able to locate, assess, and represent new information quickly. They need to be able to communicate this to others, and to be able to work productively in collaborations with others…Most importantly, they need to be to think and learn for themselves, sometimes with the help of external authorities and/or systems of rules, but, more often, without this help (NZCER).
What does all this mean for patient engagement in the 21st Century?
Primarily, we must acknowledge the way in which technology now influences every aspect of life. Apart from the practical implications of technology in medicine (such as increased applications for robotics and tech-assisted surgeries), there are heavy social implications as well. For example, the generation raised in tech, the Millennials, are intensely involved in social media–almost aggressively so. As this generation comes of age, the ways in which businesses and industries can harness social media as a tool to engage effectively remain to be seen.
Secondarily, health care professionals must not only keep up with tech advancements to reach the Millennials, but they must also maintain effective engagement with patients from the Baby Boomer Generation as well as Generations X and Y, learning to accommodate those among those groups who have failed to embrace the technological advancements that have so encompassed all of life for the younger generations.
So the whole thing will be a bit of a balancing act for a while.
Figuring out how best to strike that balance will depend on many factors, including the specific type of healthcare industry, the number of patients, the demographics of a particular area, and other matters.
But striking the balance is important. We must strike it and strike it well. According to the Brookings Institution, patient engagement boosts health and reduces costs. So we can’t afford to ignore generational shifts.
To do so would be to risk leaving vulnerable patients behind.