Healthcare Through a Generational Lens

Access to healthcare is available across generational cohorts, however, there are meaningful generational variations in leveraging that access. Studies have found these generational differences contribute to disparities in patient engagement and outcomes. Moreover, each of the five generations’ values, experience, and approach to meeting healthcare needs vary significantly. If we want to maximize and improve health outcomes for all Americans, it is necessary to understand the optimal healthcare experience by generation. In this piece, we will examine what each generation wants from the healthcare system and explore best practices to engage them for augmented health outcomes. 

Members of the Silent Generation were born between 1928 and 1945 and make up 2% of the current workforce. They are the most frequent users of the healthcare system and are more likely to follow physician guidance. Members of the Silent Generation typically prefer traditional healthcare and are less comfortable with the recent shift towards telehealth and other online components of medical care. Their clinical visits are more frequent and longer due in part to this preference for traditional in-person care. The key to best serving this generation is to make members more comfortable with the role technology plays in the current healthcare market, while still delivering the quality of care and interpersonal connection that they have come to associate with a historically traditional version of healthcare.

Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, make up 25% of the workforce and 26% of hospital visits. These Americans rely on the healthcare system to address existing and developing conditions and tend to favor high-quality name-brand medical care to address their increasing health needs. Baby Boomers are more willing than the Silent Generation to engage with the technological advances that have altered the way healthcare is delivered in recent years. Outcomes from athenaResearch indicate that Baby Boomers frequently utilize their patient portals to communicate with their providers. Healthcare providers who seek to optimize Baby Boomer health outcomes can leverage this openness to technology to better treat them as they progress into retirement age.

Members of Generation X (Gen X), born between 1965 and 1980, compose 33% of the workforce, with the majority of them working full-time. Their obligations in the workplace make convenience and access the highest priorities when it comes to seeking healthcare. Based on recent experience and online research, Gen X tends to be more willing than older generations to switch providers in order to improve their own healthcare outcomes. Gen X are more likely than older generations to utilize the healthcare system for themselves, as well as promote the utilization for their children and aging parents. Best practices for serving this generation likely involves expanding appointment times and increasing the convenience of scheduling appointments, all while continually maintaining high-quality service. 

Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, make up 35% of the current workforce, with the majority of them working full-time. Despite their large presence in the workforce, Millennials are the lowest users of traditional healthcare, with 51% visiting a primary physician less than once per year. They also have low usage rates for inpatient and outpatient services, except for the emergency departments and maternity services. Members of this generation typically embrace telehealth and other online components of healthcare. They also prefer strong connections with healthcare providers and place importance on their peers’ input and patient testimonials when selecting a healthcare provider. Millennials tend to prefer health plans with high deductibles and lower premiums, signaling that they are price sensitive to current healthcare costs. The key to best serving this generation is to provide price transparency, offer convenient methods to make medical decisions online, and foster deep, genuine connections with physicians. 

Generation Z (Gen Z) has yet to have a conclusive age range, but its oldest members are beginning to enter the workforce and utilize the healthcare system. Having grown up with ubiquitous digital access, members of this generation expect convenient online components to their healthcare experience. Although 45% of Gen Z do not have a primary physician, its members value mental health more than previous generations and are more likely to access the healthcare system with those needs in mind. Healthcare providers who seek to optimize Gen Z health outcomes can provide plenty of digital options and preventative care with an emphasis on mental health and overall wellness.

The shift towards value-based care has emphasized the importance of measuring and pursuing quality health outcomes. In order to maximize outcomes, we need to address the medical challenges facing healthcare recipients and design healthcare experiences based on their needs. These are complex tasks, but understanding how a patient’s generational membership can affect what they desire from the healthcare system and how they utilize it can help us accomplish them. While adding to the complexity is the ability to adhere to each of the 5 generations, patient-focused care is the key to systemic outcome improvement.


What Different Generations Want in Healthcare 

Understanding Generational Differences in Patient Engagement 

How Generational Factors Impact Patient Engagement 

The Health of Parents and Their Children: A Two-Generation Inquiry 


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