How do people choose a hospital or primary care provider? There are a number of considerations, but understanding generational differences and how they affect selection behavior is a critical step toward new patient acquisition and patient loyalty.

Members of the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Zers consider a variety of factors when choosing their healthcare provider. Are you developing the right message in the right place for each?

THE SILENT GENERATION (BORN UP TO 1942): “DIRECTION”

Influences: You know the trusty saying “doctor’s orders”? This generation lives by that. While they only make up a little over six percent of the population, they account for the majority of hospital stays, which leads them to highly value the level of service provided by their doctors. They rely heavily on their doctors for referrals and general health information as well as advice given by primary care physicians when selecting a hospital. They want to be directed. They also have rigid definitions of service, believing “the customer is always right.”

Technology: The Silent Generation is known for its lack of use of digital technology. And though a global pandemic has driven a slight uptick in media usage among this group, Pew Research reports that while 40% of this generation owns smartphones, only 33% own a tablet and only 28% use social media. So unless a doctor specifically recommends a telemedicine appointment or using an online source for tracking health, this generation will prefer to be reached more traditionally.

Where to Reach Them: Prioritizing direct mail, print, broadcast television and radio in your healthcare campaigns will be effective at reaching this generation.

BABY BOOMERS (BORN BETWEEN 1942–1960): “ENGAGEMENT”

Influences: Baby Boomers, also known as the “me generation,” like to be right. This leads them to value brand reputation and trustworthiness above all else when it comes to healthcare decision-making. This makes them likely to choose healthcare services based on personal recommendations, prior experience and reputation. They also tend to research recommendations before deciding. They want to be engaged and use third-party comparisons and ratings as a means of decision-making.

Technology: There is evidence to support that Baby Boomers are embracing technology for healthcare. In fact, they’re embracing it so much so that they are interested in using technology for things like appointment reminders, after-hours visits, online classes and follow-ups. But while they may be quick to adopt technology such as mobile health and fitness apps, according to Beckers Hospital Review, only nine percent of Baby Boomers prefer telemedicine appointments.

Where to Reach Them: Though Baby Boomers are best reached through more traditional measures, like broadcast television and AM/FM radio, you’ll also find success in reaching them through paid search, YouTube, Facebook, display advertising and print.

GEN XERS (BORN BETWEEN 1961–1981): “EDUCATION”

Influences: Being the first generation to grow up with health information available on the Internet and the first to experience direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs, this generation tends to be more skeptical when it comes to the healthcare decision-making process. This has led them to be more likely to seek healthcare recommendations and information from multiple sources before making a decision, including family members, co-workers, doctors, pharmaceutical company websites, medical journals, television programs, news websites and books. They want to be engaged, but, more importantly, they want to be informed about their care. They want to be educated. Gen Xers are more likely to choose a hospital based on their most recent experience.

Technology: Gen X is responsible for starting the technology boom that has led us to where we are today, which is why they have been dubbed the “digital immigrants.” Though they prefer transparent communication directly with their provider, security and privacy concerns have led them to be less apt to adopt to healthcare technology such as telemedicine and virtual chatbots, with only 22% of Gen Xers saying they prefer virtual visits to in-person care, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.

Where to Reach Them: Since this generation strives for convenience due to busy schedules, they tend to prefer email marketing over most other channels. You can also find them on YouTube, followed closely by Facebook, broadcast television and AM/FM radio.

MILLENNIALS (BORN AFTER 1981): “CONNECTION”

Influences: 24% of Millennials do not have a primary care provider. Of those who do, 30% choose their provider based on their insurance portal, followed by family referrals, online reviews and referrals from friends and coworkers. Millennials value health information technology and, like Gen Xers, are more likely to switch hospitals if they lose confidence in the care provided based on their most recent experience. And with this group being heavily influenced by advertising, making sure your message is in the right place at the right time is especially important.

Technology: According to a 2019 Accenture study, 44% of Millennials would choose a provider based on them offering digital solutions via mobile, which makes sense considering that according to Pew Research, 93% of Millennials own a smartphone. This generation also wants access to online test results, prescriptions and appointment scheduling in addition to telemedicine services. In fact, one-third of Millennials would prefer to see a doctor virtually.

Where to Reach Them: Millennials value technology and are likely to seek information from multiple sources. They want to feel connected. But perhaps most importantly, they want to be reached at the bottom of the funnel, when they’re ready to make a decision. Reach these digital natives through YouTube, Facebook and email marketing to make the most impact.

GEN Z (BORN AFTER 1996): “CONVENIENCE”

Influences: Gen Z wants to be in charge when it comes to their health. Gone are the days of the Silent Generation’s “doctor’s orders” and here are the days of a generation ready to take proactive involvement in their own health. So when it comes to choosing hospitals, you’ll find Gen Z heading to Google to research, research, research, and then, if they have to, they’ll choose a hospital based on who offers the most convenient options, like click or text to schedule.

Technology: It’s no secret that Gen Z expects convenience. And with healthcare technology continuing to evolve, this might be the perfect opportunity to reach them. Gen Z has never known a world without the Internet, or without near-constant access to mobile devices and apps. This means that sharing data online, often in many places, comes naturally to them, especially when it leads to a convenient outcome. And while most of the general population still prefers in-person appointments, 41% of Gen Zers—the most of any generation by far—prefer telehealth appointments.

Platforms & Tactics: Gen Z heavily engages with Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. Providing access to simple in-app forms, click-to-call/schedule technology and any artificial intelligence (AI) integration is likely to resonate with them.

SO HOW DO HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS MARKET TO SUCH DIVERGENT DEMOGRAPHICS?

Although loyalty is developed over many years and experiences, an opportunity exists to foster it within every age range, whether it is a Gen Zer’s first visit or a member of the Silent Generation’s 50th. While the Silent Generation values service and Baby Boomers are more likely to consider resources, all generations consider prior experience to be an important factor when choosing healthcare services, so providing a positive experience at each visit is essential.

Understanding these differences will allow healthcare providers to deliver the right message, foster loyalty and remain top of mind.