HopeLab builds digital health tools aimed at Millennials and Gen Z

Margaret Laws, chief of the social innovation lab, offers a preview of her keynote at the upcoming HIMSS Connected Health Conference, discussing the kinds of tools these young people want – and healthcare organizations would be wise to adopt.
By Bill Siwicki
11:40 AM

Millennials and Gen Z, the generations born after 1980, now make up more than 50% of the U.S. population. Technology is central in the lives of these “digital natives,” and it extends into every aspect of their lives, including health and well-being.

At the 11th Annual HIMSS Connected Health Conference (October 16-18 in Boston), Margaret Laws, president and CEO of HopeLab, will present a keynote address, “How Digital Natives are Changing Digital Health,” on October 17. She’ll explore how the lifestyles, expectations and perspectives of young people are changing the landscape of digital health.

Behavioral science and user-centered design

Laws leads a multidisciplinary team combining behavioral science, user-centered design and partnership with innovators to create technology products to help improve health and well-being for teens and young adults.

“There now are more than 150 million young people in the digital native generations – the Millennials and Gen Z,” Laws explained. “These young people have had digital technologies their entire lives. They shop, socialize, learn and work online – and now almost exclusively via mobile.”

"While earlier generations looked to primary care providers and other healthcare providers for advice and guidance, members of Gen Z are using online resources to research issues of importance to them and often to connect with peer/patient experts."

Margaret Laws, HopeLab

These young people expect to be able to interact with healthcare providers online, and conduct healthcare visits that way, unless there is some crucial reason they be there in person, she added. They bring the mentality “start virtual, move to in-person only when necessary,” she explained. Almost half of them have no primary care provider, and they’re not particularly interested in this concept, she said.

“The companies being created by and for digital natives have some key features in common,” Laws noted. “Many focus on the needs of young people that have not been well met by the mainstream healthcare system. Companies addressing mental health, sexual health, dermatology and hair loss are some of the new entrants in the ‘digital-first’ category.”

A consumer-centric approach

These new entrants are taking a consumer-centric approach, and have been built for a digital-first consumer, with mobile accessibility and a premium on convenience, she added.

Members of Gen Z are heavily influenced by peers and social media influencers. They’re looking for an “online someone like me” with whom to talk about their health concerns, Laws said.

“While earlier generations looked to primary care providers and other healthcare providers for advice and guidance, members of Gen Z are using online resources to research issues of importance to them and often to connect with peer/patient experts,” she said.

Online site the Artidote offers a striking example of this, Laws noted as an example.

A digital native’s alternative

“In this online community of almost a million people worldwide, users share recommendations for trusted mental health providers in cities across the globe,” she said. “This new reality represents the digital native’s alternative to provider directories and referral from a primary care provider as a way to source a specialist.”

More close to home for Laws, HopeLab is a social innovation lab focused on working with young people to co-create digital solutions to improve health and well-being. The staff is made up of behavioral scientists, human-centered design experts and tech product developers. They work with organizations that serve young people – in health, education and nonprofits – to develop and distribute solutions and measure health impact.

“Current HopeLab projects focus on improving health and life outcomes for high-risk young moms, reducing anxiety in young people who have gone through cancer treatment, and addressing loneliness, depression and anxiety in college students,” she explained.

The lab’s process of working with young people is one of co-creation. The team works closely with young people at all stages of development of a digital intervention, from settling on a compelling concept to deciding on a digital form factor to testing for efficacy.

A digital tool for young cancer patients

“As an example, we were designing a digital tool to help reduce anxiety and poor social outcomes for young people who have gone through cancer treatment,” she recalled. “We brought together a group of young cancer survivors to ideate – to develop some ideas of what sort of a tool might help them get through this challenging time.”

Through their insights, the lab came to the concept of offering them the opportunity to learn and practice a set of positive psychology skills. The lab based its solution on an evidence-based positive psychology intervention, but knew that the form factor – the way that the intervention was delivered – would be equally crucial to the intervention working.

“The decision to use a chat bot to deliver these lessons and training was a direct offshoot of the input and stories our young co-creators shared throughout the development process,” she concluded.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bill.siwicki@himssmedia.com
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