Vitals Index Study Reveals Stark Generational Differences When It Comes to Attitudes About Health Care

Millennials have a high-degree of trust; Gen Xers are the most skeptical

March 1, 2017 – LYNDHURST, NJ – A national survey released today by Vitals found that, when it comes to attitudes about health care, a lot may depend on your age.

Separated by decades, generations are often defined by researchers in their own unique terms. Now, a Vitals Index study that surveyed Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials found that the generational divides carry over into attitudes about the doctor-patient relationship and the health care system as a whole.

“Just as HR managers have struggled to integrate each new generation into the workforce, doctors and providers are being confronted with the same challenge,” said Mitch Rothschild, Founder and Chairman of Vitals. “Health care providers will need to consider a patient’s demographics in order to engage every patient in bettering their health.”

Below are outlined the generational dividing lines when it comes to attitudes towards health care:

Millennials – Health Care Idealists
Being in their 20s and 30s, Millennials are young and in general a healthy bunch. For the most part, they’ve utilized less health care services than other generations. Only 35 percent have a primary care provider, and one in four say they use an alternative care facility, like an urgent care center, when they are sick.

Often characterized as optimistic and idealistic, those traits may help explain why they have a high degree of trust in the system and in their doctors. They’re the least likely to question their doctor’s authority or their integrity when it comes to fessing up to medical mistakes.

Confident and idealistic, Millennials are often labeled as over-sharers for their habits both on social media and in the real world. But this translates into an open doctor-patient relationship. Millennials are more likely than other generations to say they can tell their doctor “anything.” Perhaps a byproduct of their parents raising them to believe their voice matters, Millennials have an expectation that they can and should engage authority. Yet, that collaborative and open dialogue leads to another positive: They’re the most likely to follow their doctor’s medical advice.

Millennials have grown up as digital natives. As such, they’re the most likely to use online reviews to “check up” on a new doctor. Yet, their familiarity with technology leads them to be the least suspicious of pitfalls. More than other generations, Millennials trust health facilities with their personal health information.

Generation X – Medical Misanthropes
Reaching their late 30s and 40s, Gen Xers are moving into middle life, and many of them are still busy with raising children. Their well-documented skeptical nature extends to how they feel about health care: They don’t trust doctors. And they don’t trust the system.

Once called the slacker generation, as Gen Xers have grown up, they’ve proved to be driven by financial success. That attitude, however, colors how they view motivations within health care. They’re the most likely to believe doctors and facilities care more about money than patient well-being.

Gen Xers have also been characterized as being distrustful of authority. That trait seems to extend to their doctor-patient relationship. They’re more likely to question if “docs really know what their doing” and believe that docs “pretend to know” something when they’re really not sure. They also feel less comfortable opening up fully with their doctors. Poor communication may be what leads Gen Xers to be the least likely to follow through on medical advice. Only 56 percent of them have a primary care provider.

As a generation that came to age during a recession and then weathered the dot-com bust and housing crisis, Gen X is no stranger to disappointment. Unfortunately, their docs have also let them down. One in four say they’ve “lost trust” in a doctor or medical facility in the last two years – more than any other generation.

Baby Boomers – Healthy Skeptics
This large generation is, unfortunately, one of the unhealthiest. According to a study from JAMA Internal Medicine, Baby Boomers have higher rates of chronic disease, more disability and lower self-rated health than members of the previous generation at the same age. Perhaps that’s why 83 percent of them, now in their late 50s and 60s, have a primary doctor they rely on when they’re sick.

Unlike their parents who showed a high degree of deference to authority, Boomers prefer a team approach. This carries over into in how they relate with their doctors. Many of them are comfortable having open, honest communications with their physician and value a doctor who is willing to discuss treatment options with them.

Boomers have certainly adapted to the Internet age, but they still take a traditional approach to finding a doctor. Baby Boomers are the most likely to rely on a doctor recommendation from friends and family members.

Boomers are willing to believe in the altruistic nature of the health care system. They don’t distrust medical facilities to put profits above patient well-being. Notoriously hard-working – they invented the 50-hour work week – Boomers also expect their health care providers to keep up with the latest medical information.

No matter the generation, the commonality is that patients are looking for doctors that are collaborative and respect their views. By identifying the preferences and biases in patients, providers can improve lines of communication with patients and forge a better doctor-patient relationship that can lead to better health outcomes.

About Vitals

Vitals empowers everyone to shop for their health care like an expert. We bring together cost and quality transparency along with innovative consumer engagement programs to help people select high-quality, lower-cost care. Vitals leads the market with incentive and engagement programs that pay people to shop. Our solutions achieve measurable and sustainable savings for consumers, employers and health plans. Vitals helps more than 120 million people each year access better, more affordable care.

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