What’s a patient? A sick person who receives care, right? Yes, and also no. That verb “receive” is outdated. Younger generations aren’t content to simply receive care. Increasingly, they expect to design the experience more or less for themselves. Gen X, Millennials and forward-thinking Boomers approach care as a transaction. What does this mean for providers? Here’s quick look at the very different generations in your population.
The big news about Boomers is that they are not as healthy or as long-lived as predicted. After decades of sedentary work, too much stress, TV and sugar-rich food, Boomers are entering their senior years with high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression and substance abuse. There are indicators that they won’t live longer than their parents’ generation, as we had earlier predicted. Already, healthcare is feeling the strain of this generation as it ages.
What do Boomers expect from providers? First, your time. Boomers mostly want healthcare that’s relational rather than transactional. They’re more compliant than Gen X—Boomers will take their meds and do everything you tell them to do (except maybe exercise)—but they want your time in return. Boomers expect to talk to you face to face, and they want you to listen. This can drive Gen X and Millennial caregivers cray cray. On the other hand, it makes Boomers good candidates for a concierge practice.
Then there’s youthfulness. Full disclosure here, I’m a Boomer, and we invented youth culture, so we’re fiercely loyal to it. As a group, we say we feel 10 or 15 years younger than our age. “Aging gracefully” is not in the Boomer vocabulary. Besides, we grew up with lots of faith in technology. Naturally we expect good news about how you can fix the knee or the bad numbers.
Boomers have embraced technology, so offer Booms online options for connecting with you. Health portals and onscreen consultations often work better than expected with this population. Finally, consider that families are staying closer than ever. The Gen X and Millennial children of your Boomer patients are part of the mix. If Boomers don’t seek out online reviews of your facility or practice, their kids will.
Will Boomers be loyal? It's all about face time and relationships. Got time to talk?
1. More than other generations, Boomers want personal relationships with providers.
2. Boomers expect solutions and fixes that help them stay active and feel young.
3. Be sure your online profiles, reviews and interfaces are sharp. Boomers didn’t grow up with the Internet, but they use it.
Don’t let their small numbers fool you, Gen X is now your most influential patient group. Nearly three quarters of Xers are the chief health decision makers in their families, and those families include everybody from Silents and Boomers to toddler Gen Zs.
“Passive” is not a word in the Gen X vocabulary. On the contrary, Xers are the first true generation of active health care consumers. Your original impatient patients.
They shop for healthcare like they shop for retail goods and services. This makes sense when you remember that Xers grew up with the Internet and with direct-to-consumer drug advertising. They witnessed the AIDS crisis and the dawn of health advocacy. All this makes Xers discerning, skeptical consumers. They are the “trust but verify” generation.
Think of this as a thirst for knowledge (it will improve your attitude). Xers consult consumer reviews, Google searches, pharmaceutical websites, medical journals, television, news websites, books, family members and coworkers. They are research hounds. Before an Xer visits your office, she knows everything about you except maybe your shoe size. In fact, 50 percent of Xers say they are extremely or very knowledgeable about keeping their families healthy, a higher percentage than any other generation.
Here’s the good news. Despite all their research and their many info sources, Xers still believe physicians are the best source for keeping their families healthy. Maybe they trust you after all, at least a little bit.
Xers want transparent, immediate communication because they are so jammed up for time. Xers simply don’t have the 121 minutes, on average, required by doctor’s visit. They don’t expect to wait the 24 days it usually takes to get an appointment. Anything you do to save them time—online scheduling, real-time wait alerts, online EHRs, 24/7 portals for test results—will come back to you in loyalty.
Here’s a surprise. Xers are quite loyal. Win a Gen X decision maker with efficient, transparent care, and they tend to stay.
1. Gen Xers expect to be allies in their care. They get third opinions as a matter of course. (It's a generational tic, usually chronic.)
2. Do everything in your power to save Gen Xers time. Tell them exactly how long a visit or a treatment will take, and don't go a minute over.
3. Xers are the key decision-makers for everybody from their Silent and Boomer parents to their Gen Z kids—yet they are an often-ignored generation. Want to improve and grow your practice? These are the people to ask for advice.
More than any other generation, Millennials avoid visits to the doctor. Half don’t even do preventive visits or checkups, mostly because they want to save money.
A Millennial with symptoms turns to WebMD and Google to self-diagnose. By the time he gets around to seeing you, he has scoped out providers, treatments and costs. Especially costs. This is the generation that likes to see flat, fixed visit fees on your website.
Despite concerns about cost, Millennials shop for and show a preference for healthcare brands. They’re heavily influenced by advertising, reputation, online ratings and reviews. Content sways them, too. They appreciate helpful information, and they don’t care if it’s sponsored. "Advertorial” is OK by them and can win you patients. In fact, Millennials often trust providers more than other generations do.
For Millennials, high tech is high touch, and medicine should be mobile. Once a Millennial chooses you or your facility, she wants to use an app to book an appointment, and her preference is usually to see a doctor virtually. Telemed and 24/7 access are basics for this tech-friendly gen. Email, text, screen time, apps, highly responsive patient portals—Millennials want all these avenues all the time.
Want some good news? As a group, Millennials tend to trust authority and even like it. They may be more compliant than Gen Xers, and they often want to relate to you personally. When it comes to behavioral health, Millennials have high awareness. For example, they don’t shy away from conversations about depression or anxiety, and this can deepen the relationships you build and the care you can provide.
1. To win Millennial patients, provide convenience and low cost.
2. Millennials have an easier relationship with authority than Gen Xers do, so Ms may be more compliant.
3. For this cohort, high-tech and high-touch are one. Options like telemed can save you time and build your Millennial client base.
Most Gen Zs are still children and teens, so their parents make most of the healthcare decisions for them. That said, we can confidently predict some things about these pediatric types.
Zs won’t be easily won. Brand-wary in general, they trust pharma and healthcare systems less than Millennials do. Zs take pride in being resourceful problem-solvers, so they are likely to show up with lots of research in hand, just like their Gen X parents. Based on their classroom behaviors, it's unlikely that Zs will simply expect to take Medication X for Condition Y. We can expect Zs to ask why a condition came about in the first place and to look for ways to mitigate risk factors.
Zs are already enthusiastic about wearables, high-tech treatment and customization, and they’ll want it all at a reasonable price point. Children of the Great Recession, Gen Zs count every dollar.
Are you an impatient patient? A gen-savvy provider? Join the conversation! Tweet us at @AmyLynchGenEdge and don’t forget to add your #generation!
Amy Lynch works with companies that want to Harness the Power of Gen IQ: Generational Intelligence. She has spoken to hundreds of groups, from MTV and Comcast to Boeing, J&J and the staff of the U.S. Senate. Contact Amy about your next event.
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