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Healthcare organizations have the opportunity to serve generations of people who have widely varying expectations, preferences, and habits when it comes to health. They have different expectations of the industry, have different approaches to accessing healthcare services, and value different channels for decision-making information.

Generational Healthcare Preferences and Expectations

The Silent Generation and Baby Boomers, while two distinct generations, have similar approaches to healthcare. The oldest of the generations and highest users of healthcare services, they both turn to newspapers and broadcast media as trusted news sources of general health information and to their doctors for personal recommendations. 

Members of Generation X, the self-starters, turn to both traditional and online avenues to educate themselves on healthcare issues. Exposed to a significant increase in brand advertising, they ushered in healthcare consumerism,” shopping for doctors and providers as they would retail products. Now, sandwiched between their children and their parents and caring for both to some degree, they access the healthcare system from three points of view.

Millennials will soon overtake boomers as the largest generation. They are more likely to self-diagnose, using online resources and social media recommendations when making decisions. They embrace alternative types of healthcare and providers, and they prefer a single entry point for online scheduling, virtual visits, gathering data, and interacting with their health plan.

Older members of Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) are now making their own health decisions. Born into a world of instant access, they will disengage or quickly find another option if healthcare interactions do not provide their desired level of convenience. While they will do intense research and may formulate their own answers before an appointment, they will look to their providers for validation. Gen Z members look at their health more holistically as their budgets allow, incorporating wearables, apps, health and fitness coaches, and other types of providers into their overall health planning.

Moving From Sweeping Generalizations to a More Equitable Approach of Personalization

There may be a temptation to offer healthcare experiences based on a person’s generation, which is easy to define. However, each person within a generation is unique, and their generation is only one of many factors that influence their health experience.

Healthcare organizations need to account for generational preferences as they deliver personalized information, data, and treatments. That can mean flexible network designs that provide Gen Z with instant access, keep the personal touch that older generations seek, and give Gen X access to clinics and walk-in care at hours that are convenient to them.

Gen X members place a priority on their parents’ health and well-being, with 80% believing they will have to delay retirement in order to cover their parents’ expenses. Personalization for them would include having access to accurate, easily understandable cost estimators and provider options to achieve the greatest value with their healthcare spending. The industry will have to make this type of information available online and offline to satisfy different generational preferences. However they receive it, the information provided to consumers must be in formats and language that is easy to use and understand, and demonstrates cultural humility.

As the industry reinforces these fundamental access points for each generation, consumer-initiated contacts present opportunities to deepen the personalization and advance health equity for each generation.

When the Gen X consumer seeks cost and treatment data, we need to provide an entry point to learn and capture what other supports they need. Is caring for children and parents straining their physical health? Are the financial and emotional aspects negatively impacting their behavioral health? Do they have unmet health-related social needs?

Perhaps millennials and Gen Z are asked one or two quick questions about their needs after they schedule an appointment or check a test result online. Responses could lead to a few more questions during their next session, building a profile so they can be proactively offered relevant information or services.

The industry’s movement to value-based care in place of volume-based care will emphasize the importance of dedicating time to get to know people in depth to help them achieve their best health outcomes. While that may happen through the kind of online avenues noted above for younger generations, for older generations, it might require extra time with their providers.

People of all ages want personalized healthcare — but what that means can vary. Organizations that see a rich fabric of people will have a stronger chance of meeting those personalized needs than those that focus on only one or two aspects of a person’s identity.

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