Generational Differences in Healthcare Technology

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Executives and physicians must modify how they engage patients based on their generation

In the workplace, executives must understand the importance of adjusting managing styles to fit employees’ needs and expectations based on their generation. Additionally, marketers tailor messages and delivery tactics based on the target audience’s preferences to help increase sales of products and services. Today, healthcare is no different as physicians and executives must modify how they engage patients from the various generations.

The U.S. population is primarily made up of three generations: the Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials. Each group has different communication preferences and expectations when it comes to making healthcare decisions and engaging with physicians using technology.

Baby Boomers

For those born between 1946 and 1964, the Baby Boomers make up the second largest living generation behind Millennials. This age group highly values quality care and typically visits the doctor’s office multiple times a year. Healthcare is something this generation takes seriously as their personal health needs continue to increase as they age. In addition to making their own healthcare decisions, they are also likely to be acting as caregivers for their parents in the Silent Generation, as well as advisors for their children in the Generation X and Millennial groups.

While Baby Boomers traditionally did not grow up with the prevalence of technology, they cannot be considered technology ignorant. In fact, most Baby Boomers have embraced technology and are active internet and social media users. The Pew Research Center found 83% of younger boomers (ages 51-59) and 76% of older boomers (age 60-69) use the internet regularly.

Despite heavy internet use, Baby Boomers still heavily rely on a physician’s expertise and knowledge. Most adults in this generation like to ask providers questions, but will then research the physician’s recommendations and additional health information online following their visit to be more informed. Physicians can best engage with Baby Boomers by providing online tools at their disposal and access to a patient portal, ultimately serving as a resource of information even when they are not in the physical office.

Generation X

Generation Xers, born between 1965 and 1979, are considered the first true healthcare consumers. They tend to “shop” for healthcare providers as they would when searching for new products in the grocery store. This age group pays particular attention to a brand’s reputation and takes into account a provider’s public perception based on their online presence and reviews. They tend to have short-term expectations and will switch providers frequently based on their experiences interacting with a physician.

This generation spends the most time online seeking information and reading reviews, as well as searching for diagnoses and treatment options via the internet. Physicians should not be surprised if a Generation Xer has done significant research prior to an appointment and comes in with an idea of a diagnosis or solution to the potential illness. In terms of embracing healthcare technology, nearly 20% of Generation Xers use wearables, such as fitness and heart rate monitors, and highly utilize patient portals according to a recent Medscape and WebMD study.

In fact, because they are so curious in nature and focused on educating themselves, Generation Xers use patient portals to review labs (77%), communicate with their healthcare provider directly and schedule appointments (41%), as well as to order refills (37%). Similar to Baby Boomers, healthcare providers should focus on becoming an online resource for Generation X patients by providing medical records in a secure portal and offer access to additional information for their continued education.

Millennials

The largest generation in the U.S., Millennials are those born between 1981 and 2000 and have grown up surrounded by technology. When it comes to finding healthcare providers, they seek information from multiple sources, including online research and their large social networks (both online and offline). Most Millennials access healthcare through primary care and urgent care, as opposed to visiting hospitals or health systems. They also highly value having a personal relationship with their provider and are generally very loyal, unless they have a negative experience that causes them to make a change.

Because this generation is considered “digital natives,” they frequently use telehealth and mHealth applications. In fact, a Salesforce report determined that 60% of Millennials support the use of telehealth and 71% would like their physicians to adopt a mobile health application. This generation wants a personalized experience and the ability to connect with physicians via technology.

To best reach Millennials, physicians should attempt to limit in-person communication as much as possible by embracing mHealth and telehealth tools, such as apps and video consults. Additionally, providers must also keep in mind how their brand is perceived online since Generation Xers and Millennials factor in reviews when determining provider loyalty.

Now What?

Whether connecting with healthcare providers through the internet or telehealth, all three generations are likely to use some form of technology when making healthcare decisions. Additionally, while the next generation group, Generation Z, is not making healthcare decisions yet, physicians can expect these individuals to be even more technology dependent. Therefore, the need to adopt mHealth and telehealth solutions will be even more crucial as younger generations age.

Healthcare today is about more than just administering care in the physical office, but also communicating and engaging with patients at all times, even virtually through the use of technology. In order to provide better care in today’s digital world, physicians must understand and embrace healthcare IT in various forms as a necessary part of engaging with patients to form a more successful practice.

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About Author

Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson is the founder and CEO of MedNetwoRx, a Dallas-based healthcare IT service provider. The company, founded in 2001, offers up-to-date IT services tailored specifically for each practice, including hosting, clinical consulting, field services and real-time location services.

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