Understanding Generational Differences with Patients

August 3, 2022 For Dentists, For Doctors

To properly engage with patients, you need to understand them. While each individual is unique, there are broad generational trends around what they want from their healthcare providers and how they prefer to engage with their treatment. Here’s what to be mindful of in order to ensure that you’re engaging patients, young and old.

Older Patients (the “Silent” Generation)

Older patients of the pre-Boomer era tend to defer to expertise and authority. They tend to listen more than talk and trust their doctors’ opinions. When working with patients of this generation, doctors might need to be more probing in their questions and confirm that patients understand any conditions or recommended treatment protocols by doing a quick Q&A with patients. These patients also prefer to be addressed in a respectful manner, for example, using honorifics and last names. Ease of access in terms of location and public transit matters to these patients.

Note that older patients are less tech-savvy and are less likely to use online booking systems or access web portals; their uptake of telehealth is also low unless facilitated by a younger family member. Provide print-outs of any educational materials, use appointment reminder cards (and phone calls), and offer analog options for making appointments and retrieving information.

Middle-Aged Patients (Baby Boomers and Gen X)

Boomers and Gen Xers tend to be fairly tech-forward and are comfortable using smartphones and digital patient portals, as well as telehealth visits. They’re also inclined to research conditions and potential treatments before their appointment and will expect to spend time discussing the pros and cons of particular treatment options. Boomers and Gen Xers tend to listen to healthcare professionals and will weigh their recommendations but want to take some ownership over their healthcare decisions.

Reputation and “trustworthiness” of healthcare professionals matter greatly to Boomers, who will often seek out doctors based on reviews, ratings, or online recommendations around the doctor’s knowledge of certain conditions or treatment protocols. They tend to be loyal, and will stick with a valued provider.

Gen X patients are mostly working full-time in the workforce and therefore require convenient scheduling options that can work around their work or family obligations. Availability outside work hours, such as after 5 pm on weekdays and on weekends, is critical for patients in this cohort. This age group is less “loyal” than Boomers and will switch providers if they have to wait too long to schedule an appointment or if they have to spend too long in the waiting room. Their time – and convenience – matter. While Gen X will listen to their healthcare professionals, they prefer a “partnership” approach where their opinions and decisions around their own body are taken on board.

Younger Patients (Millennials and Gen Z)

These patients span multiple life stages and have different degrees of digital confidence. Millennials have similar needs to Gen Xers, although they’re more budget conscious and even more willing to use tech to streamline the healthcare experience. They have less flexibility in terms of their time, with many being in less stable work or having young children to care for. They value pricing transparency and “state-of-the-art” knowledge and tend not to be loyal to their providers. This is partly due to the fact that Millennials may frequently move for job reasons. Telehealth, web portals, apps, and digital payment solutions are vital for this group.

The young adults of Gen Z take Millennial needs to an extreme, highly valuing digital communication and interaction. They expect a collaborative approach to their healthcare, but being relatively new to navigating the healthcare landscape on their own, will take guidance from their doctors. Respect, inclusivity, and egalitarianism matter hugely to this group.

Is Your Practice Primed to Reach Patients of All Generations?

Different practices will serve different cohorts of patients. You’ll be able to build strong, long-term relationships by understanding the expectations of each generation and serving those needs. One way of doing so is ensuring that your physical space aligns with patient expectations. If your patient mix is largely older people, a well-positioned practice with a “traditional” feel might be the best fit. If your patients skew younger, a smaller clinic with telehealth functionality and longer operating hours could be the right choice.

At Gittleson Zuppas Medical Realty, we specialize in bringing together healthcare practices with their ideal medical buildings. Whether you’re just diving into patient research, or you know what kind of space will work best for your patients, talk to us. We can help you find an address that will help you meet the needs of a multi-generational cohort!