Patient preferences across generations: Myths debunked

Challenging age-based myths about what patients want from their healthcare experience can help you deliver better, more inclusive care.
Patient Experience

Everyone knows that older adults don’t want to use technology, while members of Generation Z only engage via their mobile phones, right?

The reality is, those assumptions are based on unfounded stereotypes—and the data proves it. Patients of all ages enjoy using technology to manage their care, and healthcare organizations that align with those preferences are better positioned to meet their needs.

In a recent Phreesia webinar, three healthcare leaders shared how their organizations have adapted their patient intake strategies to deliver an age-inclusive, tech-enabled healthcare experience at scale.

Myth: Older ​adults won’t ​use technology ​to schedule healthcare appointments, ​check in at their doctor’s office or pay medical bills. ​

In a 2022 Phreesia survey, 53% of adults age 65 and older said they had checked in for an appointment online in the past 12 months, and 68% of those patients used their smartphone to do so.

That’s no surprise to Jamie DeFalco, PCMH, CCE, Quality Improvement Coordinator at Pendleton Community Care, a federally qualified health center in West Virginia.

When the FQHC implemented Phreesia, its staff assisted patients with check-in and explained how the new process would benefit them.

“Instead of assuming that older adults wouldn’t be able to use the technology, we showed them how,” DeFalco says. “As we showed them how to do it, they became more comfortable.”

Since then, DeFalco’s team has found that their older patients often complete digital intake even faster than their younger patients do.

For Kristin Powers, MHA, Practice Management Implementation Specialist at Colorado Physician Partners, meeting patients where they are in their relationship to technology is key. She saw that many of the group’s older patients adopted digital intake easily, while some needed more support.

In general, though, most patients recognized the value of using digital tools and adopted them quickly.

“Our goal is to provide the patients with ease and a high level of patient satisfaction during their visits,” Powers says.

Myth: Younger patients, such as ​Gen Z and ​Millennials, won’t remain loyal to one organization.

Many healthcare leaders have noticed that younger people tend to prefer same-day appointments, so they may assume that Gen Z and Millennial patients will always visit an urgent care center or the first provider available rather than sticking with one physician.

Shelly Overmier, Clinical Manager at Allen’s Family Practice Clinic in Louisiana, has seen firsthand that this, too, is a myth.

As a family medicine provider, Allen’s Family Practice Clinic treats many patients from birth. Its three providers get to know their patients as they grow up, and the relationships they build encourage those patients to return as young adults.

“We treat them as family,” Overmier says. “For the most part, they will always call us and let us know what’s going on with their care, because we foster that type of relationship.”

At Colorado Physician Partners, younger patients typically do prioritize providers that can see them quickly, Powers says. That’s why she strives to offer same-day availability for sick visits and allow patients to schedule a visit at a different location if it lets them come in sooner.

Smart-scheduling tools also help Colorado Physician Partners automatically fill cancellations, giving patients a chance to switch to an earlier appointment time.

Myth: Older adults ​won’t engage with providers via text message or email.

At Allen’s Family Practice Clinic, patients indicate whether they would feel more comfortable if a caregiver handled notifications or check-in forms on their behalf. And while some older adults prefer that approach, many are eager to self-manage their care.

“It hasn’t been our experience that older patients don’t want to text or email,” Overmier says. “More than anything, we find that they really like the emails and the text messages, because it reminds them of their appointments and gives them the opportunity to get in and out of the waiting room faster.”

However, although most patients are comfortable sending text messages and emails, older adults are sometimes hesitant to fundamentally change their approach to tech, Powers says.

She’s learned that older adults are excited to modernize their healthcare experience, but many prefer to do it using tech that is familiar to them. To meet that need, she offers flexibility: When sending appointment reminders to patients who don’t own a cell phone, for instance, Powers chooses an automated voice-call reminder instead of a text-message notification.

“It’s all about understanding the unique needs of our patient demographic,” she says.

Learn how Phreesia can help you deliver a streamlined intake experience for patients of all ages.