How Good Medical Care Differs for Young, Old, Middle-aged Patients

October 26, 2011

Depending on which age range a patient falls into, it’s important that practices and physicians alter their patient relations accordingly.

Twenty-somethings are getting ready to settle down, their parents are empty nesting, and their grandparents are enjoying retirement. Each generation is looking for different things, and that includes a different type of medical care.

It’s important that physicians and practices “take a step back and be very thoughtful” about the different values, beliefs, and needs of their patients of different ages. That’s according to best-selling author and workplace communications expert Cam Marston during his MGMA11 session, “A Generational Look at Customer Service,” which kicked off the conference in Las Vegas Sunday night.

[Watch a video interview with Cam Marston discussing his session.]

Marston urged physicians and practices to break down their patient population into four age-based categories: those over age 66 (the Matures); those between ages 46 and 66 (the baby boomers); those between ages 32 and 46 (Generation X); those under age 32 (the Millennials).
Depending on which age range a particular patient falls into, it’s important that practices and physicians alter their patient relations accordingly, Marston urged. “You must burden yourself to try something new.” Here’s how:

The Matures and the Baby Boomers

Older patients prefer their physicians take the reins when it comes to decisions regarding their medical care, Marston said. They want their physicians to tell them, “This is what you should do.”
They also prefer personal interaction when communicating with their physicians. That usually means phone calls and snail mail instead of e-mail, he said.

If your practice is hoping to draw these patients into your practice, it’s a good idea to promote your professional history, Marston said. Things like name recognition, longevity, and the diplomas hanging on your office’s walls matter to them. “Your history gives you the credibility to serve that patient on the spot,” he said.

When it comes to the baby boomers specifically, it’s important for practices to keep in mind that many of these patients are working longer than expected as a result of the economy. They value their time and they expect prompt, easy, and efficient medical care, he said.

Generation X:

Also known as the “researchers,” these patients arrive at your office with Google printouts about the illness or condition they think they have, Marston said. They put an “extraordinary amount of research” into their healthcare-related decisions. When treating these patients, physicians should not quickly dismiss their research, he said. If you do, the patients aren’t likely to come back to your practice.

In a shift away from the Matures and the baby boomers, these patients value their individuality and their uniqueness. They respond better to physicians who make them part of the decision-making process, Marston said. Physicians should ask these patients, “Here’s what we can do [to treat you], what do you think?”

Unlike the older generation of patients, these patients are technologically savvy and they enjoy e-mail communication with their medical practice and physician, he said.

Also unlike the older patients, they believe the “experts must prove that they are experts.” That means they will grow to trust your physicians more slowly, Marston said. But once you’ve hooked them, these patients are also the “most loyal customers.”

The Millennials:

The Millennials are the “baby on board generation,” Marston said. In other words, these patients are the ones whose parents announced their presence inside their cars with the informative yellow stickers on their back windshields.

These patients are more likely to have been coddled by their parents, they've been told that they are “unique” and “special,” and they have a “delayed sense of adulthood,” he said.

As a result, when treating these patients, physicians need to stress their uniqueness, and they need to keep in mind that these patients are facing healthcare needs at later ages than the previous generations (i.e. bearing children now usually takes place in the late 20s rather than the early 20s).

Physicians should explain to these patients, “what you’ll do for them, the individual, and where you’ll take them,” Marston said. “Patient care has always been about the individual, it always will be, but it’s got to be turned up a level.”