Understanding Generational Differences with Patients


Understanding what different generations of patients want in their healthcare providers and how they make their decisions is essential to today’s successful medical practice. Expectations for patient engagement vary widely between the groups. It’s a delicate balance.

While doctors need to make changes to attract and retain patients in younger demographics, they must also maintain focus on older patients who utilize specialty healthcare at a much higher level.

In a previous blog we described the major generational groups in detail and discussed how to deal with their differences in the workplace. As a reminder, (or an introduction if you didn’t see that blog), social scientists have defined five basic generational groups born in certain time spans who share major life experiences:

  1. The Traditionalists (or Silent Generation) born 1922 to 1945
  2. Baby Boomers born 1946 to 1964
  3. Generation X born 1965 to 1976
  4. Millennials or Gen Y born 1977 to 1995.
  5. Centennials or Gen Z born 1996 to 2010

While every patient is unique, members of these generational groups tend to share key personality traits, core values, and communication styles. People born on the cusp of two groups may often relate to characteristics of both groups.

What is Important to Your Patients?

The Traditionalists (or Silent Generation) were brought up with respect for authority and experience. They prefer to receive significant guidance from their provider and trust their doctor’s opinions. Generally conformist, they are highly likely to follow MD orders. Their respect for doctors can sometimes inhibit them from asking enough questions about their condition and proposed treatments, especially if the doctor seems busy. It is essential to prompt them to ask questions and not appear rushed. You and your staff can use “patient teach-back technique” by asking patients to explain in their own words some important information or instructions that you have given them.

Respect and good service is very important to traditionalists, and they define this differently than younger patients. For these seniors, respect and good service means that staff are friendly, patient, and look them in the eye when speaking. They prefer to be addressed with Mr., Mrs., or Ms. _____, rather than by their first name.

Traditionalists are often accompanied to appointments by their Baby Boomer children, who advocate for their parents and are not shy about asking questions!

Baby Boomers are often more technically savvy than younger doctors and staff assume. Many in the 60-75 age bracket have had smartphones for ten years and used computers competently in their workplace. They are increasingly comfortable with using patient portals.

Baby Boomers tend to be curious and to research symptoms, diagnoses and treatment on-line prior to their appointment. They want their doctors to take the time to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of particular treatments.

When seeking providers, Baby Boomers often act on a recommendation from their PCP, but they do make some decisions based on word of mouth or on-line ratings. Finding a doctor with a good reputation whom they can trust is a key value for Baby Boomers. They are more “brand faithful” than younger patients and will return to the practice if they perceive high quality care.

Gen X patients are selective and use a variety of sources including social media to find the right provider. They read on-line reviews such as Google, Healthgrades and Yelp, and factor them into decision-making.

Since Gen Xers are often at the height of their careers in high-paced jobs, convenient scheduling and appointment options are important to them. They want appointments after work and on weekends. Generation X patients value speed in customer service. They have little patience with long wait times at their actual appointment. They are also less tolerant with waiting two or three weeks for an appointment and would rather seek another provider.

Gen Xers also tend to search for information before their appointments, and develop questions based on what they have heard or read. They feel that they should be in control of their bodies and place less value on expert opinions. They sometimes view their health care provider as an adjunct to discuss their ideas and concerns with. Finding alternative therapies is part of their health care research.

Millennials (or Gen Y) are the largest segment of the population. They live fast-paced lives, often with demanding jobs and young families. They seek conveniences such as on-line appointment systems that they can use during off-hours. They want mobile apps and willingly use telehealth when appropriate. They may be stretched financially, and therefore tend to seek price transparency.

Millennials want doctors who demonstrate knowledge of state-of-the-art technology in their field. At the same time, they seek strong patient-provider connections, and want adequate time for discussion at their appointments. They do not hesitate to post negative reviews on-line and switch providers if they have a negative experience.

Millennials utilize websites such as Web MD extensively. Unfortunately, they are not always discerning in the quality or reliability of other sources they find on the Web, and often present their doctors with articles to justify pre-formed opinions regarding their symptoms or possible treatments.

Gen Z patients are at the early stages of utilizing the health care system. They are the true digital natives and will have the highest expectations regarding technology such as on-line payments and scheduling. They are glued to their phones, want mobile apps, and will prefer to receive appointment reminders by text.

Making Your Practice Thrive with Every Age Group

In addition to paying attention to what patients in each age group need and value, you may want to consider sending automated patient feedback surveys. Most patients will not tell you in person that they were unhappy with their appointment, but they may be willing to give specifics on a survey. They can be your “eyes and ears” to negative interactions with staff that you rarely witness. You can also ask questions about interest in extended appointment hours or the best way to do appointment reminders. Remember that surveys only work if you actually pay attention to the feedback you get, and make changes where needed!

When new patients come to your practice, you can ask them how they found out about it during the registration process. Marketing efforts should be tailored to the specific aspects of your practice that you want to grow. For example, if you want to do more LASIK surgery , your target audience is people under 40 who spend much of their time on social media. Be sure to monitor your social media reputation and respond to both positive and negative reviews.

Keep your website up to date with quality content. If patients are searching for more information about an eye condition, they will feel more confident in a practice that provides accurate clinical information about available treatments. Pay attention to search engine optimization (SEO) by techniques such as adding new information or monthly educational blogs. SEO will positively impact your placement on Google searches.

You can play patient education videos and showcase your service offerings in your own reception room. A variety of content of interest to different generations can boost your reputation and ratings with everyone.

To learn more about how our consulting company can help your practice, contact Advantage Healthcare Consulting today.