In our last post, we covered some recent evidence that millennial patients prefer doctors who use telehealth in their practices. Those studies are compelling, but what we left out was that the same research also suggests that older generations want to use telehealth, too.
It turns out that Generation X and the baby boomers (and beyond!) are also adopting cell phones and the internet for their healthcare needs, and they are often doing so at a rate that rivals that of millennials. In a 2015 study, for instance, 12.1% of non-millennials reported that they had communicated electronically with a healthcare or health insurance professional in the past year, in comparison to 11.8% of millennials who said the same. The study also found that 21.3% of non-millennials had used a website in the prior year to make an appointment, check lab results, or manage prescriptions, activities which were performed by only 20% of the millennials surveyed.
Perhaps these intergenerational numbers are similar because the typical millennial is more likely to use technology but less likely to need healthcare, whereas the typical baby boomer is the opposite, causing the overall rates of healthcare technology use to be unexpectedly equivalent. That may be partially true, but surveys of telehealth preference by patient age also show more agreement between generations than you might expect.
Generation X…But Online!
Don’t count these 35- to 54-year-olds out of the telehealth party. From 2016 survey data:
- 66% would be open to virtual care treatment options as an alternative to in-office doctor’s visits for non-urgent matters (an absolute 2% more than millennials)
- 60% would choose a primary care doctor who offers a patient app over one who does not (10% less than millennials)
- 53% would choose a primary care doctor who offers virtual care treatment options over one who does not (1% more than millennials)
Data from a 2015 study also show that 5 to 8% of these patients would actually switch doctors based on availability of online visits. That’s something like half the comparable rate for millennials, but it’s not zero, either.
Baby Boomers…Also Online!
They are 55+, and they’ve got their reasons for telehealth. From 2016 survey data:
- 57% would be open to virtual care treatment options as an alternative to in-office doctor’s visits for non-urgent matters (7% less than millennials)
- 51% would choose a primary care doctor who offers a patient app over one who does not (19% less than millennials)
- 37% would choose a primary care doctor who offers virtual care treatment options over one who does not (15% less than millennials)
Perhaps most interestingly, of the baby boomers in the study who said they would be open to virtual care, 74% felt that way because it would be more convenient, but only 40% felt that way because it would be easier on their schedule. This implies that “convenience” is not always about scheduling, and perhaps it often has more to do with travel requirements or other pragmatic issues that become more difficult as age increases and health declines.
Also interestingly, 40% of the surveyed baby boomers who were open to virtual care held that view because they felt such care would lessen the risk of getting sick from other patients. In contrast, only 26% of Generation X and 31% of millennial respondents shared this worry. This suggests the tantalizing idea that the various potential benefits of telehealth may not appeal equally to each generation but that they might still combine to produce a net outcome of desirability across all age groups.
Oh and apparently even 3 to 5% of your baby boomer patients will leave you for a doctor who provides online visits, so there’s that. Fickleness is not exclusive to millennials, so get your telehealth game on point before you get disconnected.
Warning: the best studies on this topic were sponsored by organizations with a vested interest in the outcome, so the data might be highly biased. Use as food for thought only.
- Lerman, K. Healthcare Without Borders: How Millennials are Reshaping Health and Wellness. (Communispace, 2015).
- Steinfeld, J., Salesforce Research & Harris Poll. 2016 Connected Patient Report: Insights Into Patient Preferences on Telemedicine, Wearables and Post-Discharge Care. (Salesforce, 2016).
- Modahl, M., Meinke, S., American Well & Harris Poll. Telehealth Index: 2015 Consumer Survey. (American Well, 2015).