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Healthcare Practice Strategies - Winter 2013 - Demographic Trends: The Care and Handling of Gen Y Patients

If you will be in practice for at least the next 10 years, you can count on this certainty: The 70 million members of Generation Y will have a profound impact on your professional life. This is the largest generational group to come along since the baby boomers, and experts say that Gen Y will be the most well-informed and take-charge generation of patients ever.

"They will be going to the doctor with detailed notes and a blueprint of 'Here's what I've read, here's what I want to do,'" notes Bruce Tulgan, coauthor of the book, Managing Generation Y.

All About Generation Y 

Members of Generation Y were born between 1980 and 2001, putting the leading edge in their early 30s. Characteristics of Gen Y generally include:

1. They are beyond tech savvy. Younger Gen Ys grew up with the Internet, social media and smart phones. Using e-mail is as natural to them as using a telephone, and they will expect their doctors to be as attuned to technology as they are.

What you can do: By all means, have a functional website, where patients can schedule appointments, request refills and e-mail non-urgent health questions. Your Gen Y patients will also respond favorably to e-mail and text appointment reminders that they can integrate seamlessly into their smartphones.

Also consider replacing the old clipboard full of forms with updated technology (like iPads) for faster paperwork processing. And you could allow patients to complete registration forms, medication lists and other paperwork online in advance of their appointment.

2. They are empowered. Be prepared for well-informed patients who are interested in taking charge of their health and well-being. They may very well come into the office after doing some basic online research and have a few ideas of their own about their condition and its treatment.

What you can do: Load patients up with data (article reprints, fact sheets, Q&As, etc.). Likewise, be ready to point them toward reliable websites and sources where they can obtain more information. And consider leveraging the growing number of medical and health apps. Properly utilized, these can allow take-charge Gen Ys to monitor everything from their weight and exercise to blood sugar levels.

3. They expect access. Multi-tasking Gen Y moms have become the true early adopters of retail health clinics (MinuteClinic, CVS, etc.), embracing extended hours and walk-in convenience with fervor. Likewise, Gen Ys will expect to be able to easily connect with their healthcare providers and receive health information quickly.

What you can do: The solution might not be adding more hours to your day, but making your hours better match the needs of Gen Y patients. Most working mothers, for example, would respond better to a 7 a.m. appointment than one at 9:30 a.m. Consider using a nurse practitioner or physician's assistant to improve access. And take time to learn the protocols for communicating with your Gen Y patients via text and e-mail.

4. They demand service. Gen Y's are accustomed to a certain level of personal service. Issues such as appointment availability and timeliness, staff courtesy and proper billing become much more important.

What you can do: Long waits, aloof staff members and poor communication simply won't cut it with Gen Y patients. Hire top-notch staff members who are service-oriented, friendly and courteous — and provide ongoing training and incentives to keep them that way.

5. They are value-driven consumers. You may very well need to "defend" your fees to discerning Gen Y patients. With the rise in consumer-directed health plans like Health Savings Accounts, in which patients pay for services themselves, increasingly cost-conscious patients are shopping around. In the retail clinic environment, for example, they find fees clearly posted menu-style.

What you can do: Be prepared to provide tangible quality and service justifications for your fees. At the same time, be ready with data on less-expensive alternatives, including outcomes and rates of complications.

A Blessing in Disguise? 

While they have all the hallmarks of the classic demanding patient, Gen Ys may also very well be the sort of conscientious patients that physicians love... informed, engaged and involved in their healthcare. 

Healthcare Practice Strategies – Winter 2013 Issue

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