Generational differences make it difficult to satisfy the needs and wants of patients across varying age groups. Not long ago, it was expected that patients would be, well, patient and deferential. They may not have been thrilled about thumbing through magazines in a waiting room, but they tolerated it. Today, younger patients have much different expectations.
Kaveh Safavi, MD, JD, senior managing director for Accenture’s global healthcare business, says younger patients want prompt service and see availability as paramount; if you cannot see them in a timely way, they will move on to the next doctor. Or maybe skip seeing a doctor altogether and go to a retail health clinic or use a telehealth service. Meanwhile, older patients may want more time and attention. You may be seeing them with an adult child with lots of questions. Their schedules may be inflexible because they depend on family or friends to drive them to an office for an appointment.
“We live in a world of instant gratification, and patient satisfaction is paramount,” Safavi says. “Think in terms of what you would want in a restaurant. A reservation that is not honored or a rude staff member not only takes that place off your favorite list, but also sends you to the keyboard for a harsh review.” That’s why he suggests not overbooking appointments and hiring front-office staff with good customer service skills.
“If you are fully booked, do not just leave it at that. Give patients a solution that is appropriate,” Safavi advises. “Whether it be urgent care, minute clinic, or a direct referral to the proper specialist or emergency room, explain why the referral is appropriate for their need. This is something that people of any generation will appreciate.”
Appointments and conversations
Geeta Nayyar, MD, chief medical officer at Greenway Health, a health information technology and services provider, notes that the typical 25-year-old patient is going to have different medical needs than the typical 65-year-old patient. Healthcare providers and organizations cannot use a one-size-fits-all approach — and the need for generational sensitivity applies to everything from how people schedule appointments to the one-on-one conversations they have with clinicians.
“With younger patients, physicians have to be more educational and consultative, speaking with them more about prevention of conditions and diseases,” she says. “With older generations, conversations are a bit more sensitive in nature and may include discussions about end-of-life planning and how to stay healthy and active during retirement.”
In addition, Nayyar notes, it’s important for older patients to be held more accountable for their care and health outcomes, ensuring they know where and how to find their health records so that information can be shared with all members of their care team.
Thomas Horowitz, DO, a family medicine specialist at CHA Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles, says the key to working with people of all age groups and from different generations is to understand their preferences so that organizations can respond and adjust accordingly.
“The challenge is that preferences are constantly evolving,” he says. “Further, behaviors around healthcare services are redefining how consumers engage with providers across each stage of care. Expectations for convenience, affordability, and quality are shifting.
“Younger generations, in particular, are increasingly dissatisfied with healthcare’s status quo and are looking to nontraditional providers for services.”