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Health Care Decisions by Generation: How Do Patients Differ?


To better serve patients, and to attract new ones, doctors can’t assume all patients are alike. Each generation expects different things from their doctors and makes health care decisions differently, so doctors need to give real consideration to their patients’ demographics. While older patients rely on their doctors for information, younger patients seek health information from multiple sources, including the Internet and their social networks.

Regardless of age, however, more patients are shopping around for medical care the way they do for other consumer services, to determine how and where they will spend their health care dollars. And technology plays a bigger role than ever before. Here’s what doctors need to know about how patients of different generations are making their decisions.

The “Greatest Generation”

People age 65 and older, also referred to as the “silver surfers,” make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population. They also account for 35 percent of hospital stays and 38 percent of all emergency room medical care, according to research by health care marketing firm Smith & Jones. They require more and longer patient visits and expect a very high level of service from their doctors.

This generation follows their doctors’ recommendations and relies heavily on them for health information and referrals. Don’t assume that seniors aren’t tech-savvy like their younger counterparts, however – Pew Research found that as of April 2012, more than half of people age 65+ use the Internet as part of their daily lives.

Also bear in mind that their children — the Baby Boomers — may be making health care decisions for this age group.

Baby Boomers

This generation (born between 1946-1964) is a growing population that is changing the expectations of the health care industry. While this age group didn’t grow up with the Internet, they have embraced technology and are actively seeking more tech-savvy ways to connect with their doctors. Some 79 percent of people age 50-65 go online every day or almost every day, according to Pew Research. They are also relatively high users of social networking sites like Facebook.

Baby Boomers are very likely to seek health information online. A Google/Nielsen Boomer Survey from August 2012 reported that 78 percent of this age group has searched health information online after seeing something on TV. Their searches focus on treatments, medications, side effects, and risks.

Boomers value quality care, and consider reviews and ratings when choosing health care providers. In addition to making decisions about their own health care, Boomers are also likely to act as caregivers for their parents in the Greatest Generation and as advocates or advisers for their Gen-X and Gen-Y children.


Generation X (born in the mid-1960s to the early 1980s) can be called the first generation of true health care consumers. This age group shops for health care much like they shop for retail goods and services. They pay attention to brands, and respond better to TV and in-office messages above other forms of health care advertising. Gen-Xers actively seek information online, including ratings and review sites.

They have short-term expectations of their doctor relationships, are influenced by health care providers’ reputation and experience, and will switch providers based on recent experiences — a characteristic they share with Millennials.


Millennials (born in the early 1980s to the early 2000s), also known as Generation Y, include more than 80 million adults – the largest of any of these generations. This young and healthy age group accesses health care mostly through primary care, urgent care, and OB/GYN providers.

Millennials tend to shop for and show preference for health care brands; they’re heavily influenced by advertising, reputation, and patient experiences. These “digital natives” seek information from multiple sources, including online research, reviews and rating sites, their large social networks, and word-of-mouth referrals.

Like Gen X, Millennial patients respond best to media that delivers messages when they are close to the care decision, such as online advertising, TV, and in-office messages. They also value personal relationships with health care providers, but they are likely to switch doctors if they have a negative experience.

The common thread throughout each generation’s health care needs? A trusted doctor-patient relationship, involvement in health care decision-making, and high-quality, easy-to-understand health information — preferably provided by their doctor, and preferably in a digital format.

The good news is that today’s technology easily allows doctors to meet all those needs while benefiting their practices, too. With an internet-based software program, doctors can play patient education videos and showcase product and service offerings in the waiting room, share quality content on a website and social media pages, and perhaps boost reputation, ratings, and referrals in the process.

To find out more, or for a demonstration of Rendia, contact us today.

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