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Understanding Generational Differences in Patient Engagement

While millennials may want more patient engagement through health IT, members of the silent generation look for provider direction in their care.

Just as each generation expresses its own unique preferences for fashion and music, patients express different preferences for patient engagement based on their age and life experiences.

As healthcare reform efforts increase demand for improved patient-centered care, providers must understand the differences in generations in order to provide effective patient engagement.

By taking a look at the health habits of the millennial, baby boomer, and silent generations, providers can better understand how to forge personal relationships and integrate health IT tools into the care process to create the best patient outcomes.

Millennial patients prefer strong provider connection

When it comes to millennials, providers need to remember that a strong connection is key in engaging with the patient. According to research conducted by Medscape Education presented at HIMSS2016, millennials are known for wanting deep, genuine connections with their physicians.

Other research indicates the same. In a study of 3,000 millennials, Nuance Art of Medicine determined that younger consumers prefer strong patient-provider connections. A total of 73 percent of respondents stated that adequate time for discussion constitutes a better physician visit, and 66 percent said that verbal communication of specific recommendations would also contribute to a good physician visit.

Millennials also have unique preferences when it comes to health technology. In a Salesforce report published last year, researchers determined that 60 percent of millennials support the use of telehealth, and 71 percent would like for their physicians to adopt a mobile health application.

Millennials also report frequent use of a wearable or mHealth application.

These preferences for communication and engagement highlight the fact that providers may need to make changes to their strategies if they wish to produce better health outcomes in the younger patient population.

Because millennial patients are so inclined to use technology to engage with their health and prefer to it facilitate patient-provider communication, healthcare professionals will need to become familiar with these trends and immerse themselves in these technologies.

“As patients play a much greater role in determining how, when, and where they receive care, organizations that don’t stay closely connected to their patients won’t be able to survive,” says Nuance’s healthcare division president, Trace Devanny, in a public statement. “Providers need to better understand the populations they serve and the threats to their business to remain competitive in their market and best manage their patients’ needs.”

More complex needs produce higher baby boomer patient engagement

Baby boomer patients are reporting increasing health needs, according to the Nuance study. A total of 39 percent of baby boomers visit the doctor three to six times per year, and 22 percent visit the doctor seven or more times per year. This trend is mostly due to the fact that baby boomers are getting older and therefore have more health concerns and chronic illnesses that they may be dealing with.

Because of that, providers must understand how baby boomers tend to interact with their health. According to the Medscape study, this generation tends to be curious, asking their providers health-related questions and researching topics further online. These patients are also interested in high-quality and individualized healthcare.

With regard to use of health technology such as patient portals, this generation engages more than is often assumed. Research from athenaResearch indicates that baby boomers, or those patients reaching their early- to mid-sixties, are using their patient portals to communicate with their providers.

This trend could be credited to the ubiquitous adoption of technology in baby boomers’ everyday lives, such as widespread use of smartphones and computers in one’s workplace.

“If you look at patients in their 60s and up to 65, a lot of those patients are still in the workforce. They’ve had iPhones for 10 years since they were in their mid-50s,” said athenaResearch’s David Clain in an interview with

“So I think that a lot of those patients are comfortable with using technology, and a patient portal may be a new approach to working with their physicians in a way that they didn’t do before, but they’re comfortable getting online, they’re comfortable using their phones to get on a portal, or using a computer.”

It is important that as baby boomers continue to age, providers don’t simply write them off as older and therefore reluctant to engage using health technology. Due to their increasing health needs and their clear preference for better engagement and use of health IT, providers need to be sure to integrate these into their practice workflows for older patient populations.

The silent generation requires ample physician guidance

The silent generation, or those born before 1942, prefer significant provider guidance, according to Medscape. These patients rely on their doctors to direct their personal healthcare and seek health information directly from their doctors.

Because these patients rely on and trust physician opinions, providers need to be clear and explicit in what is required of these patients in order to ensure better health. In some instances, that means emphasizing the importance of accessing the patient portal, or enlisting a family member to help the patient do so.

In many cases, this means understanding a bit more about a patient’s personal life in order to make sure they are taken care of between physician encounters.

According to Mark Wagar, president of Heritage Medical Systems, providers need to engage with their patients outside of the doctor’s office in order to prevent further adverse health outcomes.

“Certainly we have all the necessary delivery systems to take care of you when you come to us in a physician's office or in an urgent situation… where you have determined that you need something, you’re really sick, you’re injured, we have all that,” Wagar said in an interview with

“That’s the traditional healthcare system. It’s the engagement with you when you’re not presenting technically as a patient today that is the key.”

This kind of engagement can take many forms, such as understanding a patient’s living situation, any barriers to their access of healthcare, and the patient’s support system. In understanding those elements, providers may put into place action plans that will help the patient access the care they truly need.

As the healthcare industry shifts from volume to value, it is important that providers determine how to engage all patients, rather than just employ a general patient engagement strategy. By identifying the nuances and differences in patient preferences, providers will be able to create better patient buy-in, which would ideally result in better healthcare outcomes.


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